Montana prepares vaccine distribution plan as COVID cases climb

A patient receives a shot on March 16 in a clinical trial of a potential vaccine for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. Ted S. Warren/AP file via Courthouse News)

Healthcare providers already tight on hospital beds are bracing for an anticipated fall wave of COVID-19, with the number of cases and deaths climbing across Montana.

State health officials also are preparing a plan to disperse a vaccine once it becomes available. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services on Monday said it had submitted its vaccine distribution plan to the CDC.

“This is a critical step, and I’m pleased with where we’re at at this point in the process,” said Sheila Hogan, director DPHHS. “I look forward to working with the CDC and key stakeholders throughout Montana as we move forward to both refine the plan, as needed, and then prepare to implement it once the vaccine becomes available.”

Hogan said the plan is based upon CDC guidelines focused on a phased approach to distribution given an anticipated limited vaccine supply. The plan’s first phase will last two months and focus on those with the highest risk of contracting a life-threatening infection.

The state’s front line workforce also is included in Phase 1. The second phase will widen to other priority groups while Phase 3 will widen to the general population, though that will likely depend upon other factors at the time.

“The current plan is based on information known at this time, but there’s still many unknowns at this point, so this will be a work in progress,” Hogan said. “A timeline for release of the vaccine is currently uncertain, so the plan does not include specific dates.”

Across the state, more than 23,900 people have contracted the virus and more than 9,600 cases remain active. The state’s hospital capacity is being tested with nearly 340 active hospitalizations related to the virus.

Statewide, 241 people have died.

Missoula County also has seen its cases trend in the wrong direction. Health officials reported 128 cases over the weekend and 61 new cases on Tuesday. The number of active cases have climbed to 583, accounting for 1,600 close contacts and 22 active hospitalizations – up three from Monday.

“We continue seeing similar demographic and exposure trends across active cases,” said Missoula County incident commander Cindy Farr. “Thirty percent of our active cases are associated with folks ages 20-29, while almost 30% of our active cases are now associated with folks 50 years of age and older.”