With the arrival of the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in Montana, this is a momentous week for our communities. The approval of these new vaccines gives us hope that the end of this pandemic is near. This week, the Montana Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will begin implementing its vaccination plan, which prioritizes offering vaccines to those at the highest risk.
At Community Health Partners, we’re committed to providing our community with the most up-to-date information about the vaccines, their availability, and how you can keep yourself and others safe in the meantime. As the situation evolves, plans will continue to be adapted, but here’s what you can expect to see in Montana at this time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that the first doses of the vaccine go to residents of long-term care facilities as well as healthcare workers who are at the highest risk because they provide direct care for patients with COVID-19. In response, the Montana DHHS is moving forward with a three-phase distribution plan.
Critical workers and those at the highest risk for life-threatening complications get the first doses. This includes residents of long-term care facilities, people 65 years and older, and people with severe medical issues. This phase is expected to take two months.
Begin expanding to other groups, including people at high risk to get and spread COVID-19 and with limited access to medical services. This phase is expected to take three to six months.
The vaccine is given to all adults. Distribution is routine. This phase will most likely take more than six months.
For our patients, we look forward to offering you the vaccine and will notify you as soon as it is made available to the public. We are not currently scheduling patients for the COVID-19 vaccine or taking names for a waiting list. The timing of your vaccination will depend on vaccine availability and on guidelines that the CDC will provide for a phased and equitable approach to vaccine distribution.
Please be assured that all approved vaccines will have passed rigorous testing for safety and efficacy. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration this month.
Pfizer’s vaccine was tested on over 43,000 people across six countries. It is 95% effective at preventing COVID-19. Few side effects were reported. The vaccine is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, children under 16, or people with extreme allergies and illness. Allergic reactions from the vaccine are rare. The Moderna vaccine is 94% effective with no serious side effects.
The third vaccine by AstraZeneca is in late-stage clinical trials. This vaccine can be stored at normal refrigerated temperatures and is cheaper than the other vaccines. AstraZeneca has pledged not to make a profit from the vaccine. Instead, the vaccine will support the COVAX program, which works towards worldwide equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine.
Vaccines are an exciting tool against the COVID-19 pandemic. Until we have access to vaccines and cases begin to slow, we must continue to take steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We must protect our at-risk neighbors from infection and flatten the curve for our healthcare workers. Stay six feet from others, wear a face covering when in public, stay home when sick, and sanitize your hands and frequently touched surfaces. Most importantly, avoid gatherings as COVID-19 cases continue across Montana.
As always, please set up an appointment with your local CHP clinic if any other health issues arise. Our community will get through this together. We can do this!
From all of us at CHP, we wish you a happy and healthy holiday season and a new year that brings an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.