County Vaccination, Moderna Vaccine

Health care workers prepare doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 6 at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds.

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The Gallatin City-County Health Department plans to expand vaccination efforts at the fairgrounds in Bozeman with help from private agencies and the National Guard.

In the coming weeks, the health department will offer clinics Mondays through Thursdays with help from Montana National Guard troops and health care companies, which the county is in the process of selecting, said Emergency Management Chief Patrick Lonergan. Two days will be reserved for administering first doses and two for second doses.

“It gives us a lot more flexibility to expand capacity,” Lonergan said, which the health department expects will be necessary as the vaccine supply increases. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse the county for the clinics, Lonergan said.

The health department to date has scheduled clinics a few days each week based on vaccine allocations from the state, which has forced the department to make last-minute calls to its employees, local fire departments, ambulance service providers, health care workers and volunteers asking if they can run the clinics.

“Staffing that quickly is challenging,” Lonergan said. “As we see a more steady allocation, we are trying to create a sustainable, routine process.”

The new clinic structure will free up health department staff for other jobs or may enable the county to expand capacity or host clinics in areas outside Bozeman in the future.

The change to health department clinics comes as Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte announced all Montanans will be eligible for a vaccine beginning April 1 and as Gallatin County reports increases to its weekly COVID-19 vaccination allocation from the state.

Even with supply growing, demand for the vaccine continues to outstrip supply. Local vaccine clinics fill fast and the health department is able to use all the doses it receives with help from a waitlist it uses to fill appointment slots when people don’t show up for their shot.

“This community is still frustrated because not everybody who wants a vaccine can get one,” Lonergan said. “Unfortunately, someone has to go first.”

About 13% of the eligible population of Gallatin County has been vaccinated, according to the health department.

This is a lower rate than several other counties, which may be due, in part, to differences in when counties report the number of vaccinations completed and that Gallatin County may have vaccinated health care workers who are employed locally but live elsewhere and have been counted in their home county.

“You have to take all those numbers with a grain of salt. It’s a moving target with lots of variables,” Lonergan said. “My advice is don’t get wrapped around the axle about it. Just know in Gallatin County, we are receiving vaccine and distributing it as quickly as we can.”

The health department’s clinics at the fairgrounds are just one way people are receiving the vaccine.

Other local organizations, including Bozeman Health, Community Health Partners and Montana State University, are scheduling people for appointments using the vaccines allocated by the state.

The federal government is also assisting by providing vaccines to veterans and to some pharmacies, which have offered vaccinations at long-term care facilities and are hosting clinics for teachers.

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