Phase 1B: Local organizations prepare for next step of vaccine rollout

By 
Sam Klomhaus – Enterprise Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Article Image Alt Text

Park County Health Department Director Alex Baukus administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Virginia Jacobs at Counterpoint Center Group Home on Wednesday.

Enterprise photo by Sam Klomhaus 

As Phase 1A in Park County’s COVID-19 vaccination plan winds down, local health care organizations are preparing for the beginning of phase 1B, expected to begin sometime next week.

Phase 1B is the second round of COVID-19 vaccinations and will include certain high risk populations such as the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. Group 1B also includes other high risk groups such as Native Americans.

Park County Health Officer Dr. Laurel Desnick said Wednesday the state plans on allocating COVID-19 vaccine on a week-by-week basis. She said she’s hoping Park County gets its first 1B shipment Tuesday, although the shipment is expected to be small.

As of Tuesday evening, the state of Montana expects to receive about 6,300 doses each of the next two weeks, she said.

Earlier this month, Gov. Gianforte directed those age 70 and over, as well as others with certain chronic illnesses, be moved to phase 1B in place of front line essential workers such as teachers and grocery store employees.

LHC CEO Deb Anczak said Tuesday the new 1B population is much larger than the previous expected group, and she expects vaccine supplies to be in high demand.

Phase 1B vaccinations will be given primarily by appointment, according to Health Department and hospital officials. Anczak said the hospital doesn’t want people congregating close together at a clinic or standing in line.

The best way to find out information on vaccine availability at the hospital is to check its website, livingstonhealthcare.org, where information will be updated daily.

At the Park County Health Department, Desnick encouraged people to sign up for NIXLE, the county’s communication tool, to get updated information on the virus. 

Desnick said the Health Department will use NIXLE to distribute vaccine information.

Interested parties can sign up for NIXLE by texting their ZIP Code to 888777 or by visiting https://www.nixle.com.

Community Health Partners and local pharmacies are also expected to receive doses for phase 1B, Desnick said, and the broader group of vaccination organizations will have a more comprehensive plan as soon as more information is available.

Each county puts in requests for the vaccine each week to the state, Desnick said, which allocates the doses.

Park County is particularly interested in hearing from people age 80 and above, Desnick said, as that age group is where the county is seeing the most severe illness and death.

Anyone 80 and over or who works with people 80 and over at a group such as a church should contact the Health Department, Desnick said.

Desnick said the 880 and older people can be hard to reach, so the Health Department is reaching out to local groups that work with or include seniors to get them appointments to be vaccinated.

Livingston HealthCare had about 70 doses left over from phase 1A that were offered to residents 70 and over, according to LHC spokeswoman Whitney Moore. The hospital posted the availability of those doses on its website at about 10 a.m. Wednesday, and they were all signed up for by late that morning.

The first few weeks rolling out phase 1B will be very complex, LHC Medical Director Scott Coleman said, because those in phase 1A will still be receiving their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, taken a few weeks after the first dose.

“We’ll be busy,” Coleman said.

Coleman said the hospital’s vaccination plan will be “aggressive.”

“We’re not sitting on the vaccine — we have extra, we’re going to give it out to people,” Coleman said.

The increased population in Phase 1B also means those included in Phase 1C, which includes essential workers, could be pushed back, Anczak said, although that depends on vaccine supplies.

Anczak said Phase 1B could be finished around May or June, but that could be moved forward depending on vaccine availability.

LHC Pharmacy Manager Brian Galbreth said places in Montana that haven’t finished Phase 1A will have priority in vaccine distribution over places that are in phase 1B.

“For a spell the demand is going to greatly exceed the supply,” Coleman said.

Coleman said he’s optimistic supply will catch up to demand fairly quickly.

“Eventually supply and demand will catch up with each other,” Anczak said.

Desnick said she expects a lot more supply to come very quickly, but that’s still up in the air.

“There’s a lot of ideas out there, but nothing has changed so far on the ground,” Desnick said.

There is a plan in place, and all the partners are working together, Coleman said — all they need is the vaccine to get going.

Coleman said the hospital is just focused on the things it can control.

“There’s so many variables, for the next month it’s impossible to see around the corner,” Coleman said.