HELENA — Leaders across the United States are reporting a slower demand for COVID-19 vaccines, and Montana is no exception to that pattern.
“I wouldn’t call it a precipitous drop in demand for the vaccine,” said retired Maj. Gen. Matt Quinn, who heads Gov. Greg Gianforte’s COVID-19 task force. “I think ‘softening’ is absolutely the right word.”
Quinn said, in recent weeks, Montana has averaged 7,000 to 8,000 vaccine doses administered each day. At the peak, they were seeing 14,000 shots on the busiest days.
County health departments are seeing the same issue. According to Lewis and Clark Public Health, weekly vaccinations in Lewis and Clark County fell from 3,335 the first week of April to just 702 two weeks after.
In Broadwater County, public health leaders say they appear to be reaching a “saturation point” for people interested in getting vaccinated.
Quinn said, despite reports in other states, they haven’t yet seen significant numbers of Montanans failing to show up to receive their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
He also said it’s not clear that the federal government’s temporary pause on the single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine had a significant effect on people’s decisions.
“I think you probably had those that were hesitant already that said, ‘Oh, well, maybe I’m now more hesitant,’ but we also had a lot of people telling county health departments, ‘Hey, we’ll wait until Johnson and Johnson’s back online,’” he said.
Quinn said he thought the CDC showed they were taking appropriate precautions by delaying Johnson and Johnson shots, further investigating reports of blood clots, and allowing shots to continue after determining those side effects occurred only very rarely.
“The feds did it absolutely the right way,” he said.
The state is encouraging people to get vaccinated, even if they believe they have already had COVID. Quinn said that’s especially important as more variants of the virus appear in Montana.
State and local leaders say the falling demand is accelerating their move away from large mass vaccination clinics – and toward other options that can meet people where they are.
“The way we want to start going is really start taking the vaccines to certainly larger employers, different community events that might be occurring, other groups of individuals, maybe churches, workplaces, that kind of stuff – where we can reach out to the people who still need to get a vaccine,” Quinn said.
Quinn said the state will be working on partnerships in the coming weeks. One of the first will be with Town Pump, which is going to be setting up vaccine clinics across the state for its employees.
Leaders say vaccination rates remain lower among people aged 30 and younger, so they will be targeting efforts to encourage that group to get the shot.
One issue has been that only the Pfizer vaccine is approved for 16 and 17-year-olds. Quinn said they are looking at mobile clinics and other ways to get the vaccine out to teens in rural communities that haven’t generally had access to it.
You can find more information about the COVID vaccine at the DPHHS website.