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A banner outside building four at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds in Bozeman reads “Vaccination Center.” Inside are eight tables where a steady stream of health care workers has been receiving a coronavirus vaccination.

The Gallatin City-County Health Department began distributing vaccines at the fairgrounds on Monday, continued the effort on Wednesday and is set to conclude this week’s vaccinations on Friday, said Emergency Management Chief Patrick Lonergan.

Next week, if the county receives another vaccine shipment as expected, the health department will once again distribute the doses at the fairgrounds.

On Wednesday, people entered the fairgrounds building to check in for their appointment, which they had scheduled online.

They handed over a waiver before sitting at one of eight tables where a nurse from Bozeman Health or Montana State University or a paramedic from the Bozeman Fire Department administered the vaccine.

After the vaccination, people were escorted outside and into a second building where they were monitored for 15 minutes for a possible adverse reaction to the vaccine.

Then, before exiting the fairgrounds, they signed up to receive their second dose in 28 days.

Angela Lehr, a mental health counselor at Three Rivers Medical Clinic in Three Forks, was among those vaccinated Wednesday.

“Working in a rural clinic, I felt that it was really important to do this to be able to continue serving the community,” she said. “It was a little nerve-wracking to get just because it’s new, but it’s also hopeful.”

Brian Nickolay, assistant chief of the Hyalite Rural Fire District, also received the vaccine. As an employee of an emergency service provider, he said he works directly with sick people, some of whom may have COVID-19.

“It’s good to be moving forward and hopefully getting back to normal,” he said.

The distribution site at the fairgrounds is the health department’s first such site and will likely be used through the summer as more and more people qualify for vaccination.

“This is not a quick process,” said Lonergan, the emergency management chief. “It is going to take a long time before we have enough vaccine supply to give to everyone in our community who wants a shot.”

The health department also plans to set up similar sites in other towns depending on vaccine supply and demand.

For now, only health care workers are receiving the vaccine.

Bozeman Health and Community Health Partners, two local health care organizations, received and administered their own shipments from the federal government in December.

The Gallatin City-County Health Department also received vaccine shipments and initially provided doses to school nurses and home health workers. Now, the health department is reaching out to smaller health care organizations in the county to get their employees signed up for vaccinations at the fairgrounds.

In a few weeks, Montana could begin expanding vaccinations to adults over 70 and those between 16 and 69 who have specific underlying health conditions.

Lonergan said vaccinating the next group could be more difficult than immunizing health care workers, who could be contacted through their employers.

So far, Montana has distributed 52,450 doses of the vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It will take months before enough of the state has been vaccinated to slow the spread of the virus.

As of Wednesday, Montana reported 4,931 active cases of COVID-19 with 219 hospitalizations. A total of 1,015 people had died from the disease and 78,114 had recovered.

Gallatin County reported 471 active cases with 14 hospitalizations.

The county announced another death on Wednesday, a man in his 70s who died in a hospital the week of Dec. 27. The man’s death makes for a total of 39 COVID-19 deaths countywide since the pandemic began.

A total of 9,355 Gallatin County residents have recovered from the disease.

This story has been updated to clarify that the Hyalite Rural Fire District is an emergency service provider.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.