Connect with us


Montana teachers to receive vaccine through pharmacies



Although teachers and school staff don’t meet state eligibility standards for the COVID-19 vaccine, they can receive doses through a federal program that delivers vaccines directly to 9,000 pharmacies nationwide.

In Gallatin County, Albertsons, Safeway and Walmart in Bozeman and the Albertsons in Belgrade are part of the federal program, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and VaccineFinder, a website that aggregates clinic information.

Gallatin County Emergency Management Chief Patrick Lonergan said Friday that the Albertsons in Bozeman has confirmed it will be receiving doses next week and will be offering them to educators.

It is not clear which of the remaining locations will be vaccinating pre-K-12 teachers or how many doses they have.

Nova Health in Bozeman and Belgrade is also offering the vaccine locally, but it is not clear if it is part of the federal program or when it will receive doses.

“The federal government is asking (some pharmacies) to vaccinate teachers, and we’re supportive of that, but I think it’s also important to understand that not everybody who has vaccine has the ability to do that,” Gallatin City-County Health Officer Matt Kelley said.

“The state is asking us not to do that and to focus on people 60 and older. We’re going to honor that with the state allocation.”

The move to vaccinate teachers is part of President Joe Biden’s effort to reopen schools. This week, he called on states to provide teachers and school staff at least one dose of a vaccine by the end of March.

Teachers in Montana have pushed to be prioritized. In January, when Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte revised the state’s vaccination plan, placing adults over 70, those 16 to 69 with certain medical conditions and people of color — Phase 1B — in front of essential workers — Phase 1C — teachers questioned his decision.

The Bozeman School Board wrote a letter to Gianforte in February urging him to include educators in Phase 1B, the current vaccination stage.

The Montana Federation of Public Employees, the state’s largest union, said the delay in vaccinating some teachers and other essential workers would make it difficult to keep schools open and the economy running.

On Thursday, the union celebrated the news that some of its members could soon be vaccinated.

“Prioritizing educators for vaccination is the right thing to do and the only way to ensure our schools safely reopen,” said Amanda Curtis, the federation’s president in a news release. “This is incredible news for educators who had been moved to the back in line for vaccinations under the Governor’s orders and then suffered another setback when the statewide mask mandate was prematurely lifted.”

Gianforte has said he chose to modify Phase 1B to focus the state’s limited supply of vaccine to those most vulnerable to COVID-19 in order to minimize hospitalizations and deaths from the disease.

This week, as part of his continued effort to protect the most vulnerable, Gianforte announced the state would be moving into a newly created distribution stage on Monday — Phase 1B+ — that includes adults over 60 and those 16 to 59 with specific health conditions, including asthma and cystic fibrosis.

Gallatin County is among the local jurisdictions that is aligning its plan with that of the state and will expand eligibility on Monday.

This means the local jurisdictions that are working together to distribute the allocation they receive from the state — the Gallatin City-County Health Department, Bozeman Health, Community Health Partners and Montana State University — will begin offering vaccines to those in Phase 1B+.

“There will be some confusion. People are going to call. I’m sure they’re going to call us (and) I’m sure they’ll call the hospital because they’re teachers,” Kelley said. “You have to have the federally allocated vaccine at this point in time in Montana to administer that vaccine to teachers and early care workers.”

The Town and Country in Belgrade is also now offering the vaccine to those eligible under the state guidelines. Appointment slots open on the store’s website at 3 p.m. on Sundays for the following week.

Gallatin County’s decision to expand eligibility to residents in Phase 1B+ comes as only about 25% of those in Phase 1B have received the vaccine.

Kelley said the decision to align with the state came out of the county’s experience when the state expanded eligibility in January to all those in Phase 1B while the county decided to begin the new phase by offering vaccine only to those over 80.

“It really became very difficult logistically, from a communications standpoint to be at a different point from where the state was,” Kelley said. “When the state moves to a different phase, it’s very difficult for the local health departments to maintain anything different. Some will, but our experience at the beginning of Phase 1B caused confusion and frustration. And frankly, the whole point of this is to get shots in arms.”

About 17% of Montanans had received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Friday, according to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *