KALISPELL — Four hundred Montana Veterans will be receiving their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from Montana VA Health Care System (MTVAHCS) on Wednesday.
MTVAHCS, which was selected to be the lead on a national VHA pilot program to bring vaccines to rural veterans, will be flying the vaccine from Fort Harrison Medical Center’s temperature-controlled freezers to Kalispell.
The Wednesday event will be the second rural distribution event of the pilot program. The first rural vaccination event occurred on Jan. 21 in Havre and brought Moderna vaccines to 240 rural veterans.
As the lead site for the national rural distribution pilot program, MTVAHCS is documenting and sharing best practices to help other VA sites across the United States distribute vaccines to rural veterans.
“These vaccines save lives and we are grateful to be able to get these doses to rural Veterans as soon as possible,” said MTVAHCS Executive Director Dr. Judy Hayman. We serve 47,000 veterans in the fourth largest state in the country. We are able to store the vaccines at three MTVAHCS locations at Fort Harrison, Billings, and Miles City."
“All vaccines must then be transported from these sites; being able to use fix winged aircraft helps us get these vaccines out quickly and avoid any complications from winter road conditions,” Dr. Hayman added.
The Kalispell VA Clinic serves just over 4,800 local veterans from communities including Kalispell, Cut Bank, Plains, Seely Lake, Eureka, northern Idaho, and Canada. The Feb. 3 vaccination clinic will be held at the Flathead County Fairgrounds and staff from four MTVAHCS sites will be coming to help veterans receive vaccines.
“Veterans in Kalispell have been calling to find out when they will have their first opportunity to get the vaccine and we are excited to be able to bring it to area Veterans who are 75 years of age or older or with certain medical conditions,” Dr. Hayman said.
MTVAHCS has distributed first doses of the Moderna vaccine to over 1,600 Montana veterans and 75% of MTVAHCS employees. Veteran vaccination clinics have been held at Fort Harrison, Miles City, Missoula, Billings, Bozeman, and Havre.
MTVAHCS plans to continue holding vaccination events around the state as additional vaccine becomes available and will do so until all enrolled veterans who want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine are immunized.
Enrolled veterans should not call MTVAHCS or their local clinic to make a vaccine appointment. MTVAHCS staff will call each veteran to schedule an appointment.
High risk veterans – who are identified as persons 75 years or older and any veteran who has a medical condition that may put them at increased risk based on CDC risk criteria and VHA guidance -- will be called first to schedule vaccine appointments.
The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is administered in two doses, 28 days apart. Veterans will be scheduled for their second dose at their first appointment. All veterans who receive a vaccine will be closely monitored for reactions, side effects, or adverse events, according to a news release.
Montana veterans who are not enrolled in VHA healthcare are encouraged to call (877) 468-8387 and select option 4 to find out if they are eligible. Unenrolled veterans are encouraged to call as soon as possible. Veterans can follow COVID-19 vaccination updates via email, Facebook, or Twitter.
Veterans with questions about receiving the vaccine can send their healthcare team a secure message here or call (877) 468-8387 (option 2) to set up a time to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine.