HELENA — Lewis and Clark Public Health leaders are getting ready to roll out the next large round of COVID-19 vaccinations to local health care workers.
Eric Merchant, LCPH’s Disease Control and Prevention Division administrator, said there are as many as 6,000 people in the health care industry in Lewis and Clark County.
“All the folks that are involved in that industry and keep it on its feet and keep people safe and healthy, that’s who we’re going after right now,” he said.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, LCPH and its community partners will hold their first drive-in vaccination clinic for health care workers, by appointment. Merchant said they plan to give out about 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine over the two days.
“We do hope in the coming weeks after that to ramp that up a little bit, because we do want to make sure that we’re getting vaccine out as quickly as possible, and 500 a week wouldn’t be on par with where we want to be and need to be,” he said.
LCPH is coordinating vaccine distribution in the county, working with a coordination team that includes St. Peter’s Health, PureView Health Center, the Helena Indian Alliance and Leo Pocha Clinic, the Montana VA Health Care System, Elkhorn Community Organizations Active in Disaster, Lewis and Clark County Disaster and Emergency Services and Montana Disaster and Emergency Services. They are also in regular contact with Walmart, Costco, CVS, Walgreens, Albertsons, and Safeway pharmacies.
Several health care providers in the county have already begun vaccinating their staff – such as St. Peter’s Health, which received a separate vaccine allocation as a major hospital. Merchant said this vaccine clinic will be open to people in a broader range of health care jobs.
The first phase of vaccine distribution also includes residents and staff at long-term care facilities. Those facilities will be receiving their own allocation of vaccines, through partnerships with national pharmacies. Last week, CVS Health announced it would begin working with about 100 facilities in Montana, providing vaccines for more than 13,000 patients.
Merchant said they hope to offer vaccinations to the majority of people in the first phase by the middle of January. He said it’s important to complete the first round as efficiently as possible, to get us closer to when vaccines will be available for mass distribution.
“I want the general population to understand, it’s coming,” said Merchant. “This is a very safe vaccine, highly effective, and it’s coming in the short term here. We just have to keep doing those public health protections in advance of when we get that vaccine. Even after we get the vaccine, it’s not going to go right back to normal life, but it will very quickly get to that point, so this is really exciting.”
Merchant said LCPH will take vaccines from various sources into its own inventory, as a way to simplify management and tracking. He said all of the doses for this week’s clinic originally came from an allocation to St. Peter’s.