COVID-19 vaccine available to those 70 and over in Montana

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana is moving into the second phase of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Gov. Greg Gianforte said Tuesday, but the supply is still limited and not all counties are immediately offering shots to all those who are newly eligible.

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Those who can receive the vaccine in the second phase are people 70 and over; those 16 to 69 with a high-risk medical condition; and Native Americans and other people of color older than 16 who may be at elevated risk for COVID-19 complications.

“Focusing on the most vulnerable Montanans in our vaccine distribution will save lives," Gianforte said in a statement. “Thanks to the hard work of our local health jurisdictions and health care workers, Montana’s most vulnerable now have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.”

Montana's vaccine supply still depends on the federal supply and allocations, officials said. Most county health departments are asking people to make appointments for vaccines online and to monitor the websites for information on future availability.

In Lewis and Clark County, 900 drive-through vaccine appointments on Tuesday and Wednesday were quickly reserved last week by residents 70 and older.

Cascade County plans to have an online portal open Thursday to schedule drive-through appointments for those 70 and older, but not those 16 to 69 with underlying health issues. The county has 1,500 doses to distribute next week.

“There will be no exceptions to this age rule due to limited vaccine supply,” the Cascade County Health Department said in a statement Monday. “If you are not able to get an appointment when the portal opens on Thursday, do not show up at (local health) agencies or call your doctor to see if they can get you in.”

In Yellowstone County, patients of Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare were asked to schedule appointments online through their patient account. Others can register online through Riverstone Health.

Flathead County's health department is asking people to call and leave a message with their name, birth date and phone number and said residents will be scheduled for an appointment based on how much vaccine is shipped each week.

Butte-Silver Bow Health also is taking appointments by voicemail, with vaccines for people 80 and over available on Wednesday, for those 75 and older on Jan. 27 and for those 70 and older on Feb. 3.

Missoula and Gallatin counties have not yet moved to the second phase of vaccine distribution, meaning shots there are only going to health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Missoula County had several thousand health care workers to vaccinate, the health department said, and may not move into the next phase until the end of the month. Healthy Gallatin is awaiting more doses, and the county's initial second-phase doses will be reserved for people 80 and older, Native Americans and other people of color.

To date, just over 9,400 Montana residents are fully vaccinated and an additional 38,400 people have received the first of two doses, health officials said.

Montana reported 295 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday as the state nears 90,000 known cases since mid-March. The number of cases is thought to be far higher because not everyone has been tested and research has shown people can have the coronavirus without showing symptoms.

Montana's death toll from COVID-19 is at least 1,093, while hospitalizations have dipped to 163, according to the state health department. The United States surpassed 400,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.