Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in Jefferson County and health officials are following official recommendations on how those will be distributed, beginning with healthcare workers who have direct contact with patients and long-term care facility staff and residents, according to the Public Health Department.
At this time, the vaccine is not available to the general public or those individuals not specified in Phase 1A, as listed above, according to Public Health Supervisor Pam Hanna.
Those with direct patient care have been expanded to include dentists and home health care workers, among others, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
The Moderna vaccine was approved by the FDA on Dec. 18, and DPHHS defined the phases and recipients for local public health departments on Dec. 24, according to Hanna.
In order to distribute the vaccine, the Jefferson County Public Health Department underwent training with the DPHHS to become a COVID-19 vaccinator site — one of 200 sites in the state.
The Moderna vaccine is stored at the same temperature as other frequently administered vaccines, therefore the department did not need additional storage units for the vaccine, Hanna said.
As Phase 1A gets underway, most of the county’s long-term care and assisted living facilities have been matched with Walgreens or CVS to administer their vaccinations on-site, said Hanna.
For those facilities that have not been matched, the health department is scheduling on-site visits to administer the vaccine, said Hanna.
“At this time we are scheduling those in Phase 1A from a list we have compiled through surveying our stakeholders in this category. Living in a rural community allows us the privilege of knowing our neighbors and patrons,” said Hanna in an email to the Monitor.
To administer the vaccine to schools and residential facilities, the county Public Health Department will accomplish this using its plan for flu vaccination clinics, and when the vaccine is available, an appointment will be made to do on-site clinics, said Hanna.
Frontline essential workers and businesses will be surveyed by the health department to assess those prepared for vaccination as the phases proceed, said Hanna. The Public Health Department is compiling a list of those interested in receiving the vaccination and to be included, call 225-4007.
The state updated its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan as of Jan. 5.
The first phase received no changes, but Phase 1B now includes persons age 70 and older and those age 16-69 with high risk medical conditions, as well as American Indians and other people of color who may be at risk for COVID-19 complications.
Qualifying medical conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), Down syndrome, heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies, immunocompromised state due to a solid organ transplant, severe obesity, Sickle Cell disease, Type 1&2 diabetes, as well as on a case-by-case basis as medical providers can include other conditions that may put someone at an elevated risk.
Phase IB is expected to begin mid-January and can take several months, according to DPHHS.
The next group eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, Phase IC, include frontline essential workers, those age 60 and older, those living in congregate care and correctional facilities, those age 16-59 with medical conditions not included in Phase 1B but may pose an elevated risk of complications, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, hypertension or liver disease.
The last phase, Phase 2, is for all remaining Montanans age 16 and older.
A date for when Phase 1B and Phase 2 was not included in the update.
For those who have already had COVID-19, vaccination is recommended, however, because reinfection is uncommon in the first 90 days following infection, individuals may choose to defer vaccination until that time period is near an end, said Hanna.
As with all vaccinations, individuals will be screened for possible allergies, as well as for possible interactions with other drugs being taken, said Hanna.
The Moderna vaccine requires two doses, one month apart.
Following a surge in November, when the county logged 317 new cases, five Jefferson County residents have lost their lives to the novel coronavirus, all within a roughly one month period. As of Jan. 4, there were 55 active cases of COVID-19 in the county, for a cumulative total of 807 since March.
Hanna encourages residents to continue with the tools already known to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing a mask, keeping a distance from others and hand-washing.