BILLINGS – As Montana gets ready for its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine, state health officials are also busy making sure disbursement is set up and ready to go across the state.
Gov. Steve Bullock announced this week that Montana will get over 9,700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
Officials at both Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare say they are ready to take them.
Bullock says Montana’s first allotment will focus on vaccinating the more than 40,000 health care workers in the state.
Those with St. Vincent Healthcare say they are registered with the state of Montana to be a vaccine provider.
“We continue to anticipate the approval of a COVID-19 vaccine and have been planning accordingly for several months,” said Communications Director Angela Douglas.
Douglas said the hospital's main focus is vaccinating frontline staff.
“We will prioritize administration of the vaccine in accordance with federal and state-approved guidelines. Ultimately, our goal will be to vaccinate as many of our nurses, doctors, staff and patients as possible,” she said.
The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses that need to be administered three to four weeks apart to be fully effective.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services will be coordinating shipping, storage and distribution of the vaccine.
Spokesperson Jon Ebelt says to date, 90 providers have registered with DPHHS.
Providers enroll through a series of questions ensuring they meet requirements, such as the capability to connect to the state data reporting system and have the proper cold storage system.
He says the list of agencies include a mix of hospitals, health departments, community health centers and pharmacies.
“Keep in mind, this only involves storage and administration of the state vaccine allocation,” Ebelt said.
He says vaccines will be allocated to Montana several ways: through a state allocation managed by DPHHS, through an allocation specifically to long-term care facilities, and to federal entities such as the Veteran’s Health Administration and Indian Health Services.
"Montana tribes were given the opportunity to elect whether to receive their vaccine allocation from state or federal sources," said Ebelt.
When it comes to pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS, Ebelt said there is a federal contract for those companies to administer the vaccine directly to long-term care facilities.
The vaccine made by Pfizer needs to be kept extremely cold at a temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius, which is said to be colder than winter at the South Pole.
St. Vincent Healthcare has the storage. Douglas said they’ve purchased an “ultra-cold freezer that reaches minus 80 degrees Celsius.”
Those with Billings Clinic say they already have a freezer to accommodate the vaccine.
Montana’s Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines told MTN News this week that the vaccine is safe and he encourages Montanans to get it, when it's available.
Daines was already been given it during Pfizer’s vaccine trial which took place in Bozeman.
“I’d describe it as if you're getting a flu shot,” said Daines. “And I want to encourage as many Montana's as possible to get that vaccine.”
And with Montana’s deadliest month for COVID deaths yet in November, health officials and state leaders are stressing the importance of following guidelines so that December won’t be worse.
The state is also anticipating hearing more information about the Moderna vaccine in the coming weeks once it receives approval.