Some Yellowstone County residents may not have received their full second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Shrine Auditorium vaccination clinic early Wednesday morning, according to RiverStone Health.
Those who received a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine between 8 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday may not have been given the full dose after a contracted pharmacist from another state may have incorrectly filled syringes, said John Felton, Yellowstone County public health officer during a press conference Thursday.
The pharmacist was contracted through NuWest Healthcare, a national health care staffing agency assisting at Yellowstone County's vaccination clinics.
RiverStone Health, the county's public health agency, operates free COVID-19 vaccination clinics at Cedar Hall at MetraPark and the Shrine Auditorium. Second dose vaccinations are done at the Shrine.
"An astute lead nurse and lead pharmacist brought the situation to our attention that this pharmacist did not demonstrate the skills in accordance to our expectations and is no longer working with NuWest at any of our Yellowstone County vaccination sites," Felton said.
RiverStone Health is notifying the 90 people who received their second dose Wednesday morning about the error and the steps to take to get fully immunized.
"While we believe the number of people who may not have received a full vaccination is fewer than 10, out of an abundance of caution we have expanded the notification list," Felton said.
Felton asked that those who received their second dose between 8 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday at the Shrine respond to phone calls and voicemail messages from RiverStone Health.
If someone received a vaccine during this time and does not hear from RiverStone by the end of the day Friday, they should call the dedicated phone line at 406-651-6409 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To prevent the error from occurring again, RiverStone Health is seeking advice from the Unified Health Command's medical technical team, which has worked to provide health guidance throughout the pandemic.
RiverStone has also reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for next step guidance when following up with patients affected by the error, Felton said. A similar incident occurred in Virginia, Felton said.
"I am truly sorry for this error and all of the inconvenience it has caused. Please know we are reviewing our clinical staffing contract and expectations with NuWest Healthcare," Felton said.
Vaccinations and COVID-19 cases
Felton also announced Thursday that about 24% of Yellowstone County residents have been fully immunized. That's a long way to go to reach the desired 70% to 85% rate that federal health officials are recommending, Felton said.
March saw 468 Yellowstone County residents test positive for COVID-19. That's a decrease from 758 in February and 1,511 in January. Eight residents died from COVID-19-related illness in March, which marks the fewest number of deaths the county has experienced since last June.
In March, St. Vincent Healthcare and Billings Clinic cared for a total of 36 COVID-19 hospitalized patients. In February, 53 were treated, while 106 were treated in January.
Yellowstone County also expanded vaccine eligibility to those 16 years of age and older. However, hundreds of first dose vaccine appointments went unfilled this week, Felton said.
RiverStone Health plans to increase outreach about vaccine availability and has administered vaccines to those who are homebound or homeless.
The CDC reported in March that COVID-19 vaccinations have proven to be 90% effective at preventing all infections of the virus starting two weeks after health care workers received their second doses. Vaccination was found to be 100% effective in preventing serious illness and death.
RiverStone Health has identified two COVID-19 vaccine "breakthrough" cases.
"This means two county residents became infected with the virus more than two weeks after they completed the FDA approved vaccination series," Felton said.
The COVID-19 vaccines aren't effective in every single scenario, but Felton said it's encouraging to see that only two out of 31,000 fully-vaccinated county residents have been identified as "breakthrough" cases.
Those who would like to schedule a vaccination appointment can sign up at mtreadyclinic.org or by calling 406-651-6596 after 9 a.m. on Mondays. The clinics have run smoothly, Felton said, only taking patients about 30 minutes to get vaccinated.
Through the reconciliation of death records from November 2020 and February 2021, 13 county residents were identified to have died from COVID-19-related illness. Friday's state coronavirus map will reflect 11 of these deaths. State health officials have been reconciling records resulting in an increase in death totals in other counties, Felton said.
The county has no confirmed cases of those infected with the coronavirus variants, Felton said.
Free testing site
A decline in COVID-19 testing has prompted RiverStone to move its free testing site from Overland Avenue to its campus at 123 S. 27th St. The site's last day on Overland Avenue will be April 16, and free tests will continue to be provided at RiverStone starting April 19.
Patients will need to make an appointment by calling 406-247-3350. Testing hours are 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.
RiverStone has also added COVID-19 vaccination data on its COVID-19 dashboard at covid.riverstonehealth.org.