Missoula health officials plan to implement an incident management team to help coordinate the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine as it becomes more widely available, eventually reaching the second tier of recipients.

The Missoula City-County Health Department on Thursday said a wide range of area providers will play an integral role in the effort, calling it a decentralized push that will require great organization.

“They'll coordinate Missoula's vaccination deployment, making it crystal clear who's eligible and when they're eligible for the vaccine, based on the governor's implementation schedule,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen. “The approach here will be decentralized but highly organized, and that's important to keep in mind.”

In a media conference on Thursday, Engen and Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick said Adriane Beck will coordinate Missoula's vaccine deployment. Beck serves as the county's director of Disaster and Emergency Management.

Beck said the process won't be without its challenges, but the stakes are high and those behind the plan are ready to move forward.

“For some, this vaccine is a gateway to normalcy but for others, it's a lifesaving measure we can't understate,” said Beck. “This unprecedented vaccine rollout won't be without complications, challenges and unexpected variables. But I'm confident we as a community have the resources and relationships to get it done in an expedited manner.”

Gov. Greg Gianforte's vaccine plan currently prioritizes frontline healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities. The next phase prioritizes those over the age of 70 and minority groups that may be at elevated risk of negative outcomes if infected.

It also includes those between the ages of 16 and 69 with certain preexisting conditions, such as cancer, kidney disease or diabetes. Beck described the challenges of reaching the public in an organized way as significant, especially as the vaccine remains limited.

“The reality to how this vaccine will be delivered, and the scale to which it must be delivered, will not lend itself to a single, centralized access point of distribution,” Beck said. “We must have as many access points across the community as possible. This reality is what necessitates this centralized, coordination effort.”

The Western Montana All Hazard Incident Management team will be deployed to aid in the process, Beck said. The team will open communication lines between providers, share resources and plan for each vaccination phase.

Beck said the team will remain in place until a vaccine is widely available to the general public. It will also collect data to examine any pressing needs as healthcare providers look to expand the distribution entering Phase 1B.

Because various providers can register with the state to receive the vaccine, Beck said it's essential that a centralize hub has a handle on how many doses are available in the community at any given time.

“Getting those numbers and knowing what's available in our community is probably our number one priority we need to get a handle on,” Beck said. “As far as what's happening at the federal level and how it's being rolled out to the states, as it is, we know we don't have enough today, and we know we aren't expecting a huge shipment that will take care of all of Phase 1B.”

Both Providence St. Patrick Hospital and Community Medical Center are backing the effort.

“Working together will be essential to ensure the vaccination process goes smoothly, as we continue to get Montanans vaccinated in a safe, efficient and quick manner,” said Joyce Dombrouski, the chief executive at Providence.