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Montana State University launched its COVID-19 vaccination effort with its first doses administered to its frontline health care workers last week.

The university vaccinated about 44 clinical workers at University Health Partners, its student health clinic, according to a news release.

Jim Mitchell, associate vice president for student wellness, said the university’s first round of vaccines had covered “most of its clinical workers.”

In addition to the clinical staff, MSU received authorization from the state’s Department of Public Health and Human Services to provide vaccine doses to students who are in clinical programs where they are in contact with patients.

It would include students in the College of Nursing, the WWAMI Regional Medical Education Program, the Regional Initiatives in Dental Education and Gallatin College’s programs in phlebotomy and surgical and medical assistants.

The university said those 215 students could receive vaccines as early as next week, depending on the supplies.

In a statement, MSU spokesman Michael Becker said the university had enough staff to meet its COVID-19 vaccine and testing needs.

“As more vaccines become available, we’ll be exploring staffing alternatives, including providing students who are studying for the health professions, such as nursing students, the opportunity to participate in this project,” he said.

When asked if professors and other employees like custodians and cafeteria workers would have early access to vaccines, he said the prioritization is being worked out at the state level.

“As soon as MSU receives additional information on doses beyond those for front-line health care workers and students, we’ll communicate it to the university community,” he said.

In the news release, Mitchell said the health clinic already has a number of the ultra-cold freezers needed to store the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at least 80 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. It also has freezers to store the Moderna vaccine at temperatures between minus 13 and five degrees Fahrenheit.

Mitchell said another ultra-cold freezer will be installed later this month. All of the clinic’s freezers are also hooked into emergency backup generators.

The university was approved to be a COVID-19 vaccine provider by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in December.

The timeline for student vaccine distribution and the number of doses is still uncertain, MSU said in a statement. It said planning is still ongoing at the university but the availability of doses is still being finalized at the state and federal levels.

During a Board of Regents meeting on Tuesday, regents and Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education staff also discussed the importance of vaccine distribution on campuses.

Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian said vaccine distribution was a monumental task for campuses and it was important to “not only be ready to receive the vaccine but to get it in someone’s arm.”

Brock Tessman, deputy commissioner for academic, research and student affairs, said campuses’ vaccination plan should be viewed within the state’s plan and as “part of their communities.”

He said vaccinations were the light at the end of the tunnel but there was still a ways to go.

“So much depends on when the next phase (of vaccination) comes,” he told regents.

He said OCHE expected more information would be available in the next week or so.

Regent Martha Sheehy said it was important for campuses to not only roll out vaccine distribution for their employees and students but to also play a role in helping the residents in their area.

Regent Joyce Dombrouski, who is also a health care professional, echoed that, saying the university could and should play a key role in helping the vaccine supply chain.

In a statement, Becker said MSU was proud it had “been able to provide resources, including people, facilities and equipment, to serve the needs of Montana.”

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.