HELENA — As snow blanketed the Blackfoot Valley on Friday, people lined up in the early hours at the Lincoln Volunteer Fire Department Station on Stemple Pass Road to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
Friday marked the first public COVID vaccination clinics for people 70 and older in the rural communities of Lincoln and Augusta.
Lincoln resident Richard Birkholz was the first in line on Friday morning, and said he was very grateful for the mobile clinic coming to Lincoln.
“It’s an hour, hour and half in the winter time to get to Helena,” explained Birkholz. “Lines are big there and it’s quicker out here. I think it’s a really good effort to reach these smaller communities.”
Lincoln Volunteer Fire Chief Zach Muse echoed the sentiment, noting that a significant portion of the people his department serves just aren’t that mobile.
“This is huge,” explained Muse. “We have people we service that even in the summer can’t make a trip down to Helena on their own.”
The rural vaccination clinics were made possible thanks to community partnerships including Lewis and Clark Public Health (LCPH), PureView Health Center, St. Peter’s Health, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Care Van and first responder organizations.
Organizers say that even with the snow storm, they were going to make it up here to the rural communities of Lincoln and Augusta unless the weather was so bad they were being told to not come by first responders.
LCPH Disease Control and Prevention Division Administrator said it is incredibly important that rural residents have the same access to the vaccine as people in Helena.
“The Current demographic eligible for the vaccine is 70 and over and absolutely we want to be able to go and serve those folks without having to put the burden of needing to travel an hour or more over a mountain pass through a snowstorm to get that life saving vaccine,” said Merchant. “We want to make sure we’re scheduling vaccinations as supply comes in and we’re out here providing the opportunity for folks that can’t drive to town. It gets complicated but it’s something we have to do. There’s equity involved here and we need everybody to have the same equity and access to these shots.”
The county was able to supply around 100 doses to Lincoln and around 70 for Augusta residents at their first clinics.
Merchant says right now there hasn’t been an issue with using all the doses as demand far outweighs current supply.
More mobile vaccination clinics will be available in the areas as County vaccine supply allows.
Organizers added that while they’d have liked better weather, it was a good way to show that the mobile clinic model will work for the county’s rural communities.
“It took us a little while to get here this morning, it was snowing pretty hard but we’re really happy to be here and provide this service in a rural community,” said PureView CEO Jill Steeley. “I’m always amazed at how wonderful and dedicated my staff, LCPH staff, St. Peter’s staff, the fire department up here and everyone that’s helped out. It’s just a really great feeling to know we’re all in this together.”
Steeley also strongly urged people to continue to follow COVID guidelines by wearing a mask, social distancing and regularly washing their hands.
“Just because people are getting vaccinated it doesn’t mean it’s not in our community,” said Steeley.