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First COVID-19 Vaccines Arrive In Montana

Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital staff line up to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 14, 2020.
Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital
Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital staff line up to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 14, 2020.

Highly anticipated COVID-19 vaccines are arriving in Montana’s ten large hospitals this week, earmarked for frontline health care workers. A Bozeman hospital administered its first doses of COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday.

The mood was light at Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital as staff members bared their arms for syringes containing the Pfizer vaccine, which arrived Monday morning.

Heard there receiving his shot, Emergency Department Medical Director Eric Lowe said during a Zoom press conference that staff members with high exposure to COVID-19 and departments with limited staffing will get the hospital’s initial doses.

“And to see them prioritized to the health care workers that have been day and night on the front lines over the last eleven months, it's fantastic," Lowe said.

Bozeman Health Deaconess is using guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state health department and other sources to design a chart prioritizing which health care workers are first in line for the vaccine. Lowe said the six staff members inoculated Monday represent medical floors, the intensive care unit and emergency and respiratory therapy departments.

“Areas that see a high frequency of infected patients," Lowe said.

Incident Command Lead Kallie Kujawa said the hospital hasn’t encountered any staff members who declined the vaccine.

Major hospitals will each receive 975 doses throughout the week.

St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, the first Montana hospital to receive the Pfizer vaccine, will start distributing doses to some of its 2,400 staff members Tuesday.

“So that gives you some idea where we’re at," said Chief Medical Officer Michael Bush.

Bush said the hospital likely has enough doses to inoculate all of its Tier 1 workers. That includes nurses, doctors and other staff who take care of COVID-19 patients in the emergency department and intensive care unit.

“People see this arrival of the vaccine as kind of a sign of hope that we’re getting to the other side of this pandemic," Bush said.

Bush said initial doses won’t make it to primary care doctors in clinics separate from the hospital, who are in a lower priority tier. He said the hospital will give roughly 100 doses from the initial vaccine shipment to Billings public safety personnel, including firefighters and police officers.

Bush said roughly a third of vaccine recipients experience moderate muscle aches, fever and other symptoms.

“But we know that’s minor compared to if you or one of your loved ones ended up being admitted to the hospital. So really would encourage people to be receptive to getting the vaccine," Bush said.

Next week, Montana expects to receive a second vaccine shipment, containing both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, for rural hospitals and nursing facilities, according to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s office. Indian Health Service documents show facilities in six reservations and five urban clinics anticipate receiving nearly 2,700 total doses of both vaccines. A call seeking details about how and when the vaccine would be distributed among facilities was not returned by deadline.

The Montana Veterans Administration expects doses of the Moderna vaccine next week.

Friday night, Republican Sen. Steve Daines released a video celebrating federal emergency authorization of the Pfizer vaccine. Daines was an early advocate for vaccine funding and participated in the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine trial.

“This will help save lives. It will support our healthcare heroes. It will protect jobs and rebuild our economy," Daines said.

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said in a statement Tuesday that the vaccine marks a “extraordinary milestone after many months of hardship and sacrifice."

Republican Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte, currently Montana’s lone congressman, said in a statement that “American ingenuity and innovation have brought the light at the end of the tunnel closer and made it brighter.”

Pfizer’s vaccine requires two doses spaced 21 days apart. Bullock’s office says the state expects a second shipment before then.

It could be months before the general public has access to a vaccine.