HELENA — Lewis and Clark County has reached another milestone in COVID-19 vaccinations, but public health leaders say they want that number to be even higher before the fall.
As of Tuesday, more than 60% of eligible people in the county have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, and 55% are fully vaccinated. However, over the last few weeks, the number of new vaccinations has fallen significantly.
“Our rates are now to the point where we just get a few hundred or less individuals vaccinated per week,” said county health officer Drenda Niemann.
Niemann said they understand COVID case numbers are much lower in Montana now, and that many people are ready to move past the pandemic. However, they expect we could see another spike in the fall, unless a higher percentage of people get vaccinated.
“After a summer off, outside playing and camping and enjoying our families, we will be back inside again, and that contributes to a higher-risk environment for the virus to go from person to person,” Niemann said.
Lewis and Clark Public Health is also concerned about the spread of COVID variants. 36 cases in the county have been linked to variants, including 25 of the so-called “UK” or “alpha” variant.
“Another really important reason to get vaccinated is to really limit not only the spread of the virus, but also the mutation of the virus,” said Niemann.
So far, the county has seen 22 “breakthrough cases,” where someone who was fully vaccinated got COVID. However, Niemann said none of those people developed severe symptoms or went to the hospital.
Niemann said the vaccination rate has been relatively consistent in the various parts of Lewis and Clark County, but somewhat lower in communities like Lincoln and Augusta where there are fewer opportunities to get the shot. They have tried to step up mobile clinics in those areas to make sure vaccines are available.
LCPH is also encouraging parents not to wait if they want to get their school-age children vaccinated before the start of classes. Only the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for children between 12 and 17 years old. That means those kids will have three weeks between the two doses of the vaccine, then another two weeks to be fully vaccinated.
“I’ve heard quite a few parents say, ‘Oh, well, we’ll get it done at some point throughout the summer in preparation for school to start,’” said Niemann. “Well, now is the time.”
Niemann said one important difference for students who get fully vaccinated is that they won’t be required to quarantine if they’re exposed to someone who has COVID.
You can find out more information about COVID cases and vaccinations in Lewis and Clark County at the county’s online COVID hub.