Bitterroot residents among those frustrated over vaccination delays

Tiffany Webber
Posted at 5:08 PM, Jan 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-22 19:11:16-05

FLORENCE — Like residents in the smaller communities all over Western Montana, Bitterroot Valley residents are expressing frustration and concern over the irregular patterns for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine.

Since the first of the year, we've received emails from many MTN News upset over what they see as the gaps in vaccination information. Florence school bus driver John Cornish is just one example.

"Well, I understand that's kind of a nationwide thing too. But my real frustration is we haven't been given any kind of an update of when, and where, and how,” Cornish said.

“My wife runs a daycare and pre-school, so we've had to make sure that we're ultra-conservative and safe with things so that we can continue that -- along with our family and friends -- to make sure that we stay safe,” he added.

Cornish says it's also been tough protecting his 90-year-old mother-in-law that lives just up the road.

So where are the snags in the vaccination efforts and why are they happening?

Ravalli County Health Department Director Tiffany Webber warned the Board of Health last week that she was running into problems getting COVID vaccines and has asked for 300 doses to catch up treating front line workers.

But the situation got much worse this week.

“What we were told is that supplies are very thin. And so those allotments that came out for this week were difficult to get and for some reason, we didn't get ours,” Webber said.

“So, we had to try to coordinate with some of our other community partners. In fact, I think I believe all the doses went to Marcus Daly, so we coordinated with them,” she added.

When asked how the situation occurred, Webber said, “the state indicated that there would be no problem getting our doses, that we would get 100 a week at the minimum, so we said we'll schedule 100 a week.” That's forcing the county to make tough decisions just to finish with the initial, Phase 1A of vaccinations.

“It just makes more sense to cut it off until we have it, you know, and not find ourselves in this position that we're in now,” Webber said. “Like if I hadn't come up with another 100 doses, I wouldn't have anybody to cover my patients next week.”

“We just tried to really hit those structures that we felt like we can't be without. Our city police. Our sheriff's deputies. Our 911. I can't replace somebody from the road crew,” Webber told MTN News.

She says the support of agencies like Marcus Daily Memorial Hospital is much appreciated and will be critical -- especially in the early stages of COVID vaccination.

The county has posted plans on its website, but everyone is waiting. “To this day, only Public Health, Marcus Daly, and Sapphire Clinic have actually received doses,” Webber said.

She told MTN News that she wishes she had better answers and can only appeal for patience, and precautions.

“I had no idea that the snafu or the little blip in the road was going to be that vaccine [has] become very scarce all of a sudden. And I don't know that anybody knows,” Webber said.

“We can't make the vaccine appear, so people need to be patient number one and they need to realize that we will push this vaccine out as soon as we get it,” Webber said. “We will push people. We are prepared to push a lot of people through.”

In addition to keeping the website update, Webber promises the county will use every means possible to get information out to Bitterroot residents as the vaccine becomes available in the coming weeks and months.

Click here to visit the Ravalli County Vaccine Info webpage.