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COVID-19 vaccines are now being administered in Gallatin County gas stations, truck stops and car dealerships as public health officials focus on immunizing those who are hesitant or lackadaisical about getting a shot.

Through much of the winter and spring, the county held mass immunization clinics at the county fairgrounds, giving shots to hundreds of people at a time. Thousands more were vaccinated Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital or in local pharmacies.

Now, as the county’s vaccination rate hovers below the target for herd immunity, local public health providers are working to get the vaccine in front of people wherever they can.

In Gallatin County, about 60% of people eligible for a coronavirus vaccine have gotten at least one shot, which includes anyone over the age of 12. Just under 50% of those eligible are fully vaccinated.

County Health Officer Lori Christenson — who is in her first week in the role — said the health department has covered pretty well those who wanted a shot and even a lot of people who were less eager.

“At this point we are really focusing our efforts on addressing vaccine hesitancy as well as making the choice to vaccinate the easy choice,” Christenson said during a press conference Friday.

In recent weeks, vaccine clinics have been run at libraries, gas stations and breweries. There are upcoming clinics planned at the Bogert Farmers Market and Town Pump locations, according to the health department’s website.

“Our goal here is to try to meet people where they’re at,” Christenson said.

On Friday, a handful of Best Practice Medicine staffers roamed around a corner of the parking lot at the Flying J truck stop off of I-90 in Belgrade at a pop-up, drive-thru clinic.

Cones led drivers to a tent, and there was a designated parking area for people to wait the 15 minutes after their shot with orange traffic signs telling people to to honk if they needed help.

Best Practice Medicine has contracts with the county and state to run clinics, spokesperson Matt Macoy said. When the group was helping with the county’s fairground clinics, they were handling hundreds of patients a day.

At their roadside clinics, Macoy said they see anywhere from 40 to 100 people come in for shots.

“It is a slow process now that … the early adopters have all come through,” Macoy said. “Now it’s the people who want really easy access, it’s kind of an afterthought.”

They’ve vaccinated long-haul truckers, local families and some tourists at the roadside clinics, Macoy said, and recently have seen people come in who had previously been wary of the vaccine.

Macoy and Matt Hopkins, Best Practice Medicine’s vice president of operations, said they’ve seen more people become comfortable getting a vaccine as fears over possible side effects are soothed.

Now, Hopkins said, they are trying to get it to as many people as possible. Best Practice is also running clinics in rural areas of the state, including Big Timber and Conrad.

“There’s some that could be standing next to it and they don’t want it,” Hopkins said. “But it’s the ones that we know that are so far remote in Montana ... we want to try to deliver as much as we possibly can and make it as easy as possible.”

Local health providers are still doing vaccination work, though at much lower volumes. Both Bozeman Health and Community Health Partners are offering vaccines to patients coming in for regular visits.

Bozeman Health still has daily clinics at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital and in Big Sky. Caryl Perdaems, system director of primary care operations, said the daily average has dropped to 200 from highs of 700 or 800.

The health system has injected 35,300 doses of the vaccine so far.

The health system has seen a surge in demand in Big Sky, said Birgen Knoff, system director of clinical practice.

“We have a pretty unique population, where we have the transient folks that come for seasonal work,” Knoff said. “Right now we have an influx of those workers.”

Knoff said they expect demand to taper off again once those people are vaccinated.

According to state data Christenson shared Friday, the rate of those who have received at least one dose of a vaccine in Gallatin County rises from 29% of those 12-17 to 87% of people 80 and older.

Just 50% of people 18-29 in the county had received one shot of a vaccine. Christenson said the department is looking to develop targeted strategies to reach those age groups.

“A good goal to target is 70% with at least one dose,” Christenson said. “So when we are sitting here at 60%, that is great news, and it means we have more work to do.”

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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