HELENA — Wednesday was the third day that Lewis and Clark Public Health held drive-thru COVID-19 vaccine clinics for everyone in the county age 16 and older. About 620 people were signed up to get their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine Wednesday at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds.
LCPH opened registration for the clinics Friday morning at 9 a.m. David Stagliano signed up online shortly after the opening.
“Very good; it’s a good step to not have to worry about this anymore,” he said Wednesday.
David Campbell called the county’s “Vaccine Hotline” this week and quickly got an appointment.
“I was kind of waiting for my age group to come up, and finally it was open to everybody, and that was good enough, I guess,” he said.
Public Health leaders reported an initial rush of people signing up for vaccine appointments on Friday. However, after that subsided, they’ve been surprised at how many slots have remained open.
LCPH budgeted 750 Pfizer vaccines for Wednesday’s clinic, but didn’t need all of them. They set aside another 750 for a clinic on Tuesday, when they had about 670 people sign up. On Monday, they made 700 doses of the Moderna vaccine available, and fewer than 500 were used. As of Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of appointments were still available next week.
“We didn’t see that kind of ‘mad minute’ competition online where all the appointments for the next week were gone in a flash,” said Brett Lloyd, LCPH’s emergency preparedness coordinator. “We’ve actually seen a much slower developing type of registration process.”
Lloyd points to several possible reasons for that change. For one, they opened up 6,700 vaccine appointments at once, over the next six weeks – far more than had been available at one time before. Lloyd also said people may have been in a greater hurry before, when they weren’t sure when the next batch of vaccines would be available.
In addition, he said many of the people who most wanted to get the vaccine may have already been eligible.
“While I think there’s still interest, I don’t think there’s that sense of urgency that we felt with the older population and the high-risk population,” he said.
The clinics are being held on weekday afternoons, and Lloyd said the appointments around 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. are filling up fastest – which may indicate people are trying to schedule during their lunch breaks or after work. He said they are looking at extending the hours later to serve more working people, but that they’re not planning weekend clinics because of the difficulty in securing enough medical staff and volunteers to operate them.
Lloyd said, so far, these large clinics have generally been the busiest vaccination locations in Lewis and Clark County. He said leaders will be watching closely over the next few weeks, to see if a greater percentage of people are getting shots from places like pharmacies and other health care providers.
If LCPH continues to see lower interest in the drive-thru clinics, Lloyd said they will have to start looking at whether to spread out the county’s doses to other providers that can be more flexible with when and how they give out vaccines.
“We’re hoping to work ourselves out of business here,” he said.
Lloyd said they will also look at the possibility of opening the clinics to people living in other counties.
“To bring all these people together and put in the effort for all these hours, we really do want to be busy,” he said. “If we’re not getting the interest from our own Lewis and Clark County residents, then the next logical step would be to open that up to our neighboring counties at least.”
Lloyd said they only bring enough vaccine doses to cover the people who have registered each day, so there is not an issue with bringing large amounts of vaccine in and out of storage.
If you want to sign up for a vaccine clinic online, you can go to the county’s COVID-19 hub, scroll down and click on one of the links provided. From there, you can choose the hour you’re interested in and see what appointments are available at that time over the next five weeks. You can also call the Vaccine Hotline at (833) 829-9219.
Lloyd said they may still add more clinics or available doses. For example, on Wednesday, they added 750 appointments to receive the Johnson and Johnson single-dose vaccine on Monday, April 12.