HELENA — The Montana VA Health Care System (MTVAHCS) could receive their first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine just in time for Christmas.
Due to the rural nature of the state and the cold requirements of the Pfizer vaccine, MTVAHCS will be receiving doses of the Moderna vaccine once it is approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
An FDA briefing document on the Moderna vaccine shows it as 94% at preventing infection. The FDA will determine later this week if the vaccine can be implemented under emergency use.
“We’re all very excited and hoping since Moderna is the one that we will be getting that it is approved and we do receive it early next week,” said MTVAHCS Director Dr. Judy Hayman.
Hayman says the first people vaccinated through the MTVAHCS will be their staff members in the intensive care unit, medical-surgical unit, and emergency department.
“We have a hierarchy for staff and one for veterans,” he explained. “Going down from the intensive care unit and emergency department, it will then be going to other health care personnel who interact with veterans regularly.”
As for the veteran side, residents of the VA Community Living Center will be prioritized and then vaccination efforts will focus on covering those most at risk for a severe reaction to the virus, such as veterans with complex medical issues.
The timeline for vaccination is fluid right now and heavily dependent on the availability of vaccine doses. The eventual primary vaccine distribution sites will be Fort Harrison, Billings, and Miles City.
“The Moderna vaccine requires a pharmacist to be able to open and draw it,” said MTVAHCS Chief of Staff JP Maganito. “But the way we have structured our clinics is there are pharmacists in those clinic systems as well.”
Maganito says they’ve been working on a vaccination plan since October and are confident they’ll be able to reach all corners of the state once it’s available for general distribution.
MTVAHCS staff say it’s no secret the pandemic has been hard, but the vaccine news has been a ray of light.
“One of the hardest things we’ve had to deal with throughout the COVID times is fear and anxiety,” explained Maganito.
”With the vaccine, I’m hearing the word ‘hopeful,’ I’m hearing the terms that we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Vaccination will be completely voluntary and Veterans that have questions are asked to contact their primary care provider directly.
Both Maganito and Hayman said they’ll be getting the vaccine once it’s available for them.
Internal surveying of staff has indicated the majority of MTVAHCS staff and all of the VA Community Living Center residents want to take the vaccine.
Maganito believes that once more people get vaccinated more confidence will build in those that are hesitant about receiving the vaccine.