University of Montana selected as vaccine holding, distribution center

Ken Chatriand, the pharmacy manager at the Curry Health Center, prepares the area where COVID-19 vaccines will be stored on the University of Montana campus. (Courtesy photo)

The state has approved the University of Montana as a vaccine holding and distribution center, allowing the institution to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to Montanans.

Kenneth Chatriand, manager of university pharmacy and coordinator of community advanced student pharmacy practice, said the approval to hold and later distribute the vaccine through UM is a testament to the university’s public health response.

“Not only do we have the physical resources needed to house the vaccine, but we have top-rated health science programs, including pharmacy, and a statewide presence of student interns and pharmacists trained as immunizers and prepared for direct patient care,” Chatriand said.

UM has not yet received the vaccine, and the timeline for distribution and delivery is being worked out with state and federal health authorities.

Chatriand said the university will work collaboratively and proactively to administer the vaccine to students, as well as community members. Later, it will be distributed statewide as decreed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“We are working on organizing a drive-through vaccine program, where our pharmacy students will be able to actually administer the vaccine to other UM students and eventually community members,” Chatriand said. “Later, as more vaccines become available, we’ll be organizing a statewide delivery program to our rural communities, hospitals and pharmacies.”

Working with a network of statewide pharmacies in the Montana Family Pharmacy Group, UM plans to mobilize its pharmacy alumni and current pharmacy students for vaccine rollout and immunizations.

“One positive note about the pandemic is that it’s allowing us to flex our muscle more in terms of what pharmacists can do for the larger public health of the state, and provide our students real-time experience and training in addressing and being a part of this national response,” Chatriand said.

With existing subzero freezers required to store the Pfizer vaccine, UM earned approval to house and distribute the doses from the CDC and the Montana State Department of Public Health and Human Services.

UM currently has three of the freezers available, and a fourth will be delivered next month. The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at temperatures of minus 90º F or below and the Moderna vaccine must be stored below 48º F.

“Fortunately, they are relatively common at research universities working in bioscience and biochemistry, like UM,” said Scott Whittenburg, vice president of research. “We have a number of these freezers we could use if that becomes necessary. UM researchers understand this a community effort, and access to the required facilities is something UM can provide.”