HELENA — The state of Montana will be making COVID-19 vaccines available to thousands more Montanans, starting next Monday.
Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Tuesday that they have added a new phase to the vaccination plan: “Phase 1B+.” Those newly eligible for the vaccine include all people between 60 and 70 years old and those 16 and older with several additional medical conditions, including asthma, cystic fibrosis and liver disease.
The state is currently in Phase 1B, which includes those 70 and older and people with high-risk preexisting conditions. Gianforte said, with this addition, the vaccine will be available to the populations that account for almost 90% of Montana’s COVID-related deaths and 75% of hospitalizations.
“While I wish every Montanan who wanted the vaccine could get one today, the reality is that our supplies are very limited,” he said. “The best thing we can do for our neighbors is prioritize Montanans who are most at risk of serious complications or death from this virus, and that’s what Phase 1B and Phase 1B+ do.”
Maj. Gen. Matt Quinn, who leads Gianforte’s COVID-19 task force, said they expect 100,000 to 140,000 Montanans are included in the new Phase 1B+
State leaders say, of 52 local health jurisdictions, most have reported they are more than halfway through Phase 1B vaccinations. 14 counties – Broadwater, Fallon, Garfield, Glacier, Granite, Hill, McCone, Prairie, Phillips, Powder River, Rosebud, Sheridan, Toole and Treasure – have completed about three-quarters of Phase 1B.
Montana is set to receive more than 50,000 vaccine doses this week – including the state’s first 8,700 doses of the new Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Gianforte said, because the state’s supply of vaccines keeps increasing, they now believe they can vaccinate this new group while still meeting their timeline of moving into Phase 1C by late spring or early summer.
The Johnson and Johnson vaccine only requires a single shot for full immunization, instead of two. It can also be stored at more moderate temperatures than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, making it easier to distribute. The state will be in discussions with local public health officials on how to allocate it.
Quinn said, since all three vaccines have been shown to be effective, particularly in preventing deaths, the state is encouraging people not to be concerned about which type of vaccine they receive.
“The guidance is, ‘Take the vaccine that’s offered to you,’” he said.
Gianforte said, because Johnson and Johnson had been making vaccines before they received the authorization to use them, the 8,700 doses Montana is receiving came from a stockpile. He said they expect to receive lower allocations of that vaccine for at least the next few weeks.