HELENA — On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Gianforte again urged Montanans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but he continued to stress his opposition to mandating the shot.
“There couldn’t be a more important time to get vaccinated,” he said. “The vaccines have been researched, they’ve been rigorously tested, they’re safe and they work.”
At a news conference, Gianforte and state public health leaders said evidence shows unvaccinated people are at much greater risk from the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
“We know that the Delta variant is as dangerous as the original COVID-19 strain; we also know that it’s far more contagious,” he said.
Dr. Maggie Cook-Shimanek, Montana’s acting state medical officer, said the Delta variant is now making up more than 90% of COVID samples the state is sequencing, and that people with that strain are generally twice as likely to spread it. Gianforte pointed to data showing people who haven’t had the shot are 29 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who have.
The governor praised the FDA’s full approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, saying it’s more evidence that the shots are effective. However, he said people who are hesitant to get vaccinated aren’t likely to be convinced by public figures. He urged them to talk with their health care providers about getting the shot.
“They don’t want to hear from me, national figures, interest groups, or even the press – it’s not effective,” he said. “They want to consult with medical providers they trust: their doctor and their pharmacist.”
Gianforte said mandates aren’t effective, saying states with stricter rules are also seeing increased cases. He reiterated that he wants to leave these decisions to individuals.
“The state of Montana will not impose a mask mandate, and the state of Montana will not impose a vaccine mandate,” he said. “As I always have, I trust Montanans to make decisions that are best for their own health and the health of their loved ones.”
Montana has already reported an uptick in the number of new vaccinations in recent weeks. More than half of all eligible people in the state have now been fully vaccinated, with 56% having at least one shot.
Gianforte also said Tuesday that he’s pleased with Montana’s improving labor force numbers in the months since the state implemented return-to-work bonuses. However, he said inflation and COVID are continuing to hold the state’s economic recovery back.
This story has been updated. Original post below:
Governor Greg Gianforte says there’s never been a better time for Montanans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
At a Tuesday press conference, Gianforte and state public health leaders pointed to data showing unvaccinated people are at greater risk from the Delta variant.
However, he also reaffirmed his stance that the vaccine or masking will not be mandated, and he does not support another lockdown.
“The State of Montana will not impose a mask mandate, and the State of Montana will not impose a vaccine mandate,” said Gianforte. “As I always have, I trust Montanans to make decisions that are best for their own health and the health of their loved ones.”
He also noted that there has been a rise in Delta variant cases in both states with and without mask mandates.
There were 720 new COVID-19 cases reported within the last 24 hours in Montana, with 3,899 total active cases in the state as of Aug. 24. The number of people currently hospitalized due to COVID is 239, up 19 from Monday.
The governor also praised the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer vaccine as additional evidence it’s safe and effective.
However, he said those who are hesitant to get the vaccine aren’t likely to be convinced by public figures, including himself. He urged them to talk to trusted health care providers.
“It’s unfortunate that all of this has been politicized,” said Gianforte. “Politics shouldn’t be part of this.”
Editor's note: This article will be updated.