BOZEMAN, MT — Phase 1A of vaccine distribution continued in Gallatin County last week. Frontline healthcare workers and others eligible for the vaccine received their first doses over three days.
But with a changing administration, the next phase is seeing a change in prioritizing the vaccine.
Friday morning marked another day at the Gallatin County Fairground’s Vaccination Center for those to come to a POD, or “Point of Distribution,” to receive their Phase 1-A COVID-19 vaccination.
All the while, Gallatin City-County health officials are preparing for changes made by Governor Gianforte and his office to 1-B.
“There’s no right or wrong answers to this,” says Matt Kelley, Gallatin City-County Health Officer. “Everybody is working in good faith to make difficult decisions and there’s trade-offs to those decisions.”
From the eyes of Kelley, the team organizing the effort to vaccinate a soon-to-grow number of certain people is working with changing criteria.
“We went from 90,000 people who were eligible to probably about a quarter of a million people who would be eligible within the new 1B,” Kelley says. “According to the recent census data, we have right around 15,000 people who are 65 and older and the allocation that we are getting on a weekly basis is somewhere between 500 and 1,000 at the health department. You can kind of do the math.”
With Bozeman Health and community health preparing for the return of MSU students next week, Kelley says the numbers, for now, are not alarming.
But with around a couple of weeks to go in Phase 1A, Kelley stresses that vaccines delivered to Gallatin County are still in short supply.
“With a quarter of a million people eligible in 1B and an allocation between 6 and 13,000, you can see we don’t have enough vaccines to go around,” Kelley says.
According to the prioritization by Governor Gianforte, Phase 1B groups have changed, with trade skill employees moving back to Phase 1C, such as teachers and grocery workers.
And when the floor opens to more outside of healthcare facilities, incident commanders and Kelley both say it will fall on the health department and healthcare providers to find out who is eligible and let them know where to go.
“Out of this Phase 1B group, who are the most vulnerable and who should we focus our effort on first?” says Patrick Lonergan, who leads Gallatin County Emergency Management. “We can’t do them all at once.”
“It’s nobody’s fault,” Kelley says. “It’s just the fact that we have a limited amount of vaccine out there.”
Phase 1C is still months away, according to Kelley, and Phase 1B is still a couple of weeks off.
While there are some tweaks, Kelley urges people to keep being safe — and the process is working.
“It’s really important that we work together with Governor Gianforte and his team,” Kelley says. “He was elected governor and he is leading this state through this prioritization and my intention is to do what I can to help the state make that work.”
The Gallatin City-County Health Department is expecting another delivery of 500 doses next week, still allocated for Phase 1A frontline healthcare workers.