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Great Falls Clinic and Benefis Health System scheduled to receive COVID vaccine soon

Benefis Health System hospital in Great Falls
Posted at 6:26 PM, Dec 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-07 20:46:31-05

GREAT FALLS — Governor Steve Bullock on Monday announced that the first round of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine expected to be delivered to Montana in mid-December will be for healthcare workers at several of Montana’s major hospitals.

The Montana Department of Public Health & Human Services (DPHHS) is expected to receive as soon as December 15 an estimated first-dose allocation of 9,750 Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines. Second-round doses will be provided to the state in a separate shipment prior to the second dose schedule, which is 21 days after from the first. The federal government requires that the first dose of this particular vaccine be shipped and delivered directly to facilities with cold storage access.

Round one allocations will be provided to the following facilities:

  • Billings Clinic, Billings
  • St. Vincent Healthcare, Billings
  • Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital, Bozeman
  • St. James Hospital, Butte
  • Benefis Health System, Great Falls
  • Great Falls Clinic, Great Falls
  • St. Peter’s Health, Helena
  • Kalispell Regional Medical Center, Kalispell
  • Providence St. Patrick Hospital, Missoula
  • Community Medical Center, Missoula

The vaccines come in boxes of 975, and Benefis Health System officials say they expect to receive at least one box, but it’s not yet clear exactly how many vaccines each facility will receive.

Kaci Husted, Benefis Vice President of Communications and Business Development, told MTN News: "We're starting to look at space where the vaccine are able to be administered as well as starting to think about the planning process of how people will schedule the vaccines, given that they'll need two different doses, how all of that is going to work. We have pretty limited information at this point in time, so (we are) planning what we can with what we know.”

Husted added that Benefis has enough cold storage to store as many vaccines as they receive, and that they already had the storage in place for previous, unrelated uses.

Benefis has more than 3,300 employees, and don’t expect to receive enough vaccines to vaccinate their entire staff at first. While the vaccine will not be required for employees, the hospital expects that the healthcare workers closest to the frontline of the pandemic will be the first ones to receive the vaccine, per the latest draft of the state’s Vaccination Plan.

The vaccine will not be required for hospital employees, and Benefis says they will follow all guidelines that the DPHHS passes on. While they are still waiting on more instruction from state officials on several fronts, Husted said they are in contact with officials from the DPHHS on a weekly, and even sometimes daily basis.

“We’re encouraged by the fact that there’s a vaccine available,” she said. “We really hope that that will help us going forward and we’ll just continue working on how we administer it and treating our patients at the same time and we’ll go from there.”

With the requirement of cold storage and the large number of doses per box with the Pfizer vaccine, the plan to allocate the first round to Montana’s large hospitals for their health care workers is the most expedient and best utilizes the resources available, according to DPHHS.

Montana is expected to receive a second round shipment of vaccines a week subsequent to the first round that will contain both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The second round allocation will focus on rural hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. The Moderna vaccine includes 100 doses per box and does not require cold storage, making it more easily delivered to rural settings or small facilities.

In a news release, Bullock said, “For nearly nine months, Montana’s health care workers have worked tirelessly to care for the people of this state, putting their own health at risk. By prioritizing the vaccination of those on the frontlines, we can help ensure our hospitals can continue serving patients while we continue to manage the spread of this virus in our communities.”

“It’s very encouraging that we’re close to receiving our first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine, but we must all remain vigilant and continue to follow all the public health safety measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19,” said DPHHS acting Director Erica Johnston. “DPHHS is committed to implementing the state’s vaccination plan by working with communities and organizations all across Montana in the weeks and months ahead.”

DPHHS says the vaccine will not be mandatory, and that everyone who wants to get it will be able to eventually. Click here for details.

The national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) created recommendations that both healthcare personnel and residents of long-term care facilities be offered vaccines in the initial phase and the recommendations are supported by the CDC. To ensure a fair and equitable distribution, Montana will be guided by the ACIP recommendations.

The vaccine will enter the state in various ways. In addition to DPHHS receiving a state allocation, there is a separate allocation for federal organizations such as Indian Health Services and the Veterans’ Administration. The CDC asked Montana tribes to elect whether they wish to receive their vaccine allocation from state or federal sources. Pharmacies partnering with the federal government will administer the vaccine in long-term care facilities.

The state is still getting details from the federal government on subsequent rounds of vaccines and will provide additional plans as they are finalized.