MISSOULA — Missoula’s epidemiological unit shared a snapshot of the county’s vaccine situation on Wednesday.
Their data shows that COVID cases continue to drop, vaccine rates continue to rise, but the younger population -- particularly 20 to 29-year-olds -- may be slowing some of Missoula County’s progress.
"When we look at the numbers and we see the low rates of vaccination among our 29-year-olds and under, it’s not because the vaccine is not available," said incoming MCCHD Health Officer D'Shane Barnett.
By now, vaccine clinics are being held every day of the week, and all Missoula County residents 12-years-old and above are eligible for a vaccine -- but the number of fully vaccinated residents varies across the age groups.
Over 80% of 70 to 79-year-olds have been fully vaccinated and high vaccination rates are also seen in the middle-aged groups.
But on the other hand, 15 to 19-year-olds -- who only recently received access to the vaccine -- are only 33% fully vaccinated.
Additionally, at this time, only 38% of 20 to 29-year-olds have been fully vaccinated, which Barnett cites as one of the Health Department's largest obstacles right now.
"Getting a vaccine isn't just about protecting yourself, it's about protecting the health of the community," said Barnett.
Dr. Sophia Newcomer, professor and vaccine researcher at the University of Montana, also spoke up about folks forgoing the vaccine.
For those who are hesitant, she recommends talking to a trusted healthcare provider and debunking some of the misinformation circulating social media.
As someone who studies vaccines, she emphasized the scrutiny new vaccines undergo before and after they reach people’s arms.
"Vaccines are tested in clinical trials before they can be used in the United States, and the trials of each of the three COVID-19 vaccines that are currently available were tested in 30 to 40,000 participants in the US," said Newcomer.
"The safety data from these trials were scrutinized by multiple groups of independent experts before making the vaccines available to the public," Newcomer added.
As of Monday, over 163 million people in the United States have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
A little over 44% of Missoula County's total population has been fully vaccinated. Herd immunity is achieved once 75% of the total population has been fully vaccinated.