HELENA — Lewis and Clark County officially began vaccination of the general public that are over the age of 70 with its first Phase 1B vaccination clinic.
The event coincided with the United States crossing 400,000 deaths associated with the virus.
On Tuesday, hundreds of vehicles were in line for the vaccination clinic at the Lewis and Clark Fairgrounds. Even though the event was by registration only many were there hours in advance.
Jim and Jean Dunn were the first in line having gotten there four hours before the clinic was set to begin. Even behind a mask, the enthusiasm of the Dunns for what this day meant was clear.
“We didn’t know what the lines were going to be like here so we just decided we can read a book or listen to a book on tape and sit in the car,” said Jim Dunn.
“I’m really glad that we were able to get in line and be here and get vaccinated,” said Jean Dunn. “You don’t realize how isolating this is, especially for older people that I think are maybe more careful than most.”
The Dunns say they’re looking forward to eventually being able to spend more time with their family and are looking forward to when the vaccine is available for everyone across the country.
Lewis and Clark Public Health (LCPH) say the first Phase 1B vaccination clinic was incredibly popular. Reservations filled up in a matter of minutes from when they opened.
Governor Gianforte’s Phase 1B strategy includes people over the age of 70 or who have a specific health condition that puts them more at risk for a serious complication from the virus. In Lewis and Clark County Phase 1B includes around 20,000 individuals according to LCPH.
Around 900 first doses will be distributed through the LCPH Phase 1B clinic this week, and more clinics will be available as additional doses arrive.
Individuals that qualify should regularly check the LCPH website or social media for updates and information on how to get registered. Rocky Mountain Development Council is able to assist anyone that may have challenges getting signed up.
St. Peter's Health has also launched their Primary Care COVID-19 Vaccination POD for already enrolled patients 70 and older. Currently, the appointments are limited and doses are fewer in number than available through the county.
Tom Richardson, clinical pharmacy manager at St. Peter's Health, was on hand to fill syringes with the correct dose of the Pfizer vaccine for nurses to then administer to patients.
Richardson says the biggest challenge facing the vaccine roll out right now is supply and demand.
“Week by week we learn what allocations we’re going to get for the following week. Once we know that is when we throw together these events and try to get as many people as we can in here and vaccinated,” said Richardson.
Richardson added that even with the supply limitations beginning Phase 1b vaccinations is an important and exciting milestone for the community.
After each person received their vaccine they then had to wait 15 minutes in the parking lot to ensure there were not serious reactions, Individuals MTN spoke with said they weren’t really worried about any potential side effects.
Helena Resident Judy Harris noted the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t the first vaccine their generation has pioneered.
“I’m at the age where I did the polio [vaccine] when it first came out, stood in line as a child,” said Judy Harris. “Did measles, mumps and all of that so I figured this is really important because this is a deadly disease.”
Those getting vaccinated on Tuesday also encouraged others to get vaccinated when it’s their time to help protect everyone. Although this is a big step for those most vulnerable to the disease, they’ll still need to get their second shot next month to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It will also still be months before the vaccine is widely available to everyone.
Until enough people have been fully vaccinated LCPH asks that people continue to wear their mask and practice social distancing to protect everyone in our community.