BILLINGS — Staff at Pharm406 in Billings started giving out free COVID-19 vaccines on Saturday, after the pharmacy's owner, Kyle Austin, received 500 doses of the Moderna shot from RiverStone Health on Friday.
“Word got around last night at 5 p.m. that we had COVID-19 vaccine and they were showing up at 9 a.m. before the doors opened. It’s been a success thus far," Austin told Q2 Saturday.
Earlier in the year, Austin partnered with breweries across eastern Montana to distribute flu shots to people in rural areas in events dubbed: get a brew, not the flu. If people got a flu shot from the clinic set up in their local brewery, they could receive a free beer.
Now that Pharm406 has COVID-19 vaccine, staff are starting the event again, but this time in Billings with Mazevo Coffee.
"You come in and get a COVID vaccine here at Pharm406, and you get a coffee card so you can relax and enjoy the rest of the day with a cup of coffee," Austin said.
Austin said coffee cards should be available starting Monday.
RiverStone Health will give Pharm406 an allocation of vaccine on a weekly basis going forward, Austin said.
“I’ll get some allocations every week from RiverStone. The government is set up so that with my 500 doses of Moderna I got yesterday, we will get 500 doses in 28 days and that will be the second dose for the people that got their first dose today. Next week, if we get more allocation, we’ll just keep moving down that allocation list," Austin said.
Pharm406 staff will send nightly vaccine appointment information to VaccineFinder.org, and that is the best place to go view how many appointments the pharmacy has daily, Austin said.
Pharm406 is one of the first locally-owned pharmacies in Billings to receive doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Austin said availability and accessibility are important when the goal is to get the most people vaccinated as possible.
"If one entity has all of the eggs in the basket, that’s going to limit accessibility. We’re not going to vaccinate large numbers of people really quick, but by giving the vaccine to people like me, we share that responsibility. We can vaccinate more people, allow accessibility and convenience," Austin said.
The 500 doses provided to Pharm406 by RiverStone Health all have to be given to Yellowstone County residents, Austin said. But that's not stopping his team from reaching out to help rural communities in eastern Montana.
With the help of a bus and trailer, Pharm406 staff will hit the road to offer manpower to rural counties and their public health departments, which often have one or two people on staff, Austin said.
“I have a mobile clinic that we will be firing up here probably not this week but the following week. I’ll start doing outreach to people’s homes where maybe they’re not mobile and they can’t get out of their house. I can come give them their COVID vaccine one-on-one. I can reach out to places like Glendive, Sydney, Glasgow, Circle and we can start doing COVID vaccine clinics in those communities as well," Austin said.
If local leaders would like a hand from the Pharm406 crew, Austin said they can call the pharmacy at 406-717-6100 to work something out.
Pharm406 is a relatively new business to Billings, setting up shop in the height of the pandemic in October 2020. The pharmacy was one of the few places offering rapid testing for COVID-19, which has a 15-minute turnaround time.
“One of the nice things about our tests is for people traveling. They are the only tests accepted worldwide and on a walk-in basis people can come in and get their tests and they’re catching their flight going to Canada, New England, Africa," Austin said.
Since opening, Austin said staff have performed around 1,000 COVID-19 tests.