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Yellowstone County expands vaccine availability

Yellowstone County expands vaccine availability


Starting Monday, Yellowstone County residents who fall in Phase 1B of Montana's COVID-19 vaccine allocation plan can now schedule an appointment to get their first shot, according to the county's Unified Health Command.

Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Gianforte changed the next phase of the vaccine rollout, 1B, to focus on people ages 70 and older, as well as those ages 16-69 who have specific underlying health conditions, and American Indians and other people of color who may be at elevated risk.

The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services began asking local jurisdictions in the state earlier this month to prepare for Phase 1B starting Jan. 18.

Those ages 16-69 with the following conditions are eligible to receive the vaccine in Phase 1B:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Down Syndrome
  • Heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
  • Severe Obesity (BMI ≥ 40 kg/m2)
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 1&2 Diabetes mellitus
  • On a case-by-case basis, medical providers may include individuals with other conditions that place them at elevated risk for COVID-19 complications. 

Health care personnel, first responders and staff and residents at long-term care facilities in Phase 1A will continue to be vaccinated, according to a press release from the Unified Health Command Monday afternoon. The UHC is made up of RiverStone Health, Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare and Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services.

Those who fall in Phase 1B may call RiverStone Health, St. Vincent Healthcare and Billings Clinic for an appointment.

The county's public health department, RiverStone Health, is only scheduling vaccinations for "people 18 and older because it received the Moderna vaccine," according to the press release. There is no charge for the vaccine, however an administration fee will be billed to insurance at Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare. The public health department is not charging an administration fee.

Scheduling comes at a first-come, first-served basis. No walk-in vaccinations will be given and individuals should bring photo identification and insurance information to their appointment. Those who are eligible can schedule an appointment through the following:

This week, the health care facilities received about 2,100 first doses of vaccine. About 100 Moderna vaccine doses were distributed to RiverStone Health, while both Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare received at least 975 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses each.

But the demand for the COVID-19 vaccines continues to outpace supply, said John Felton, Yellowstone County Public Health Officer and President and CEO of RiverStone Health in an interview with The Billings Gazette.

About 300,000 people fall into Phase 1B statewide, Felton said, and about 45,000 to 50,000 of those people live in Yellowstone County.

"The number of appointments will vary from week to week because the number of doses available varies so much," Felton said.

Today, RiverStone Health opened 90 appointment slots for its on-site vaccine clinic. Within about 40 minutes of the UHC announcing that local health facilities can now vaccinate those in Phase 1B, all 90 slots were filled, Felton said. Over 60 people had left messages on RiverStone's phone line.

Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare and RiverStone Health will not be using a waitlist model, and those who would like a vaccine will need to try and make an appointment when slots are available. 

Again, it all depends on how many doses the county receives.

"In this case, because the supply is so low, it may well take people multiple attempts to get an appointment," Felton said.

A second dose is required for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Those who receive the Pfizer vaccine should wait 21 days until receiving the second dose, while those who get the Moderna shot should wait about 28 days. A person must get the second dose at the facility where they received their first dose.

For example, if an individual receives a Moderna vaccine at RiverStone Health, they will be advised to make another appointment to get their second dose with RiverStone about 28 days later.

Billings Clinic

After the UHC announced expanding vaccinations to Phase 1B today, Billings Clinic scheduled around 800 appointments in two hours. Billings Clinic's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Toni Green-Cheatwood believes that a majority of the calls were from those in Phase 1B.

Right now, the current number of vaccine clinics at the hospital has been sufficient. Usually, the clinics can administer about 1,000 vaccines in a few days or about 100 vaccines each hour, Green-Cheatwood said.

So far, the clinic has administered about 1,100 second doses. Many people in Phase 1A, including Billings Clinic employees, have received their second dose through the hospital.

The clinic usually only schedules appointments when it knows how many doses it'll receive, so Green-Cheatwood asks the public to be patient.

The clinic will typically update its Facebook page and website when vaccine numbers are released, she said. A recorded message will also let callers know when appointments have been filled.

"We are doing our best and working as fast as we can, but we're still at the mercy of the supply," Green-Cheatwood said.

St. Vincent Healthcare

St. Vincent Healthcare's vaccine clinics typically vaccinate about 200 to 300 people a day on average, said St. Vincent Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Bush.

The vaccine clinic can expand if needed by adding more appointment slots and individuals to administer vaccines. 

The available appointment slots today at St. Vincent were already filling up by Monday afternoon, Bush said.

Many of those in Phase 1A, including St. Vincent employees, have already received their second dose through the hospital.

Bush said he's excited to work with RiverStone Health and Billings Clinic to vaccinate more people in the county.

"This is another step forward for us to get there," Bush said.

Photos: St. John's United holds COVID-19 vaccination clinic

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