GREAT FALLS - People ages 70 and older are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Cascade County.
According to a release from Benefis Health System, those who are 70 and older can make an appointment to receive the vaccine. At 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 21, 1,500 slots will open up for vaccine appointments.
Vaccinations in Phase 1B target those 70 years and older, anyone between 16 and 69 with high-risk medical conditions and people of color who may be at an elevated risk.
Unfortunately, with this first shipment, Cascade County was forced to take a different approach.
"Due to limited supply Cascade County at this time is only able to vaccinate people 70 and older, and then we hope that as we get more supply we'll be able to expand it to those other portions of tier 1B as well", says Kaci Husted, Vice President of business development and communications for Benefis Health System.
This means some people who may qualify will have to wait a bit longer before they can receive their vaccine, but members of the community say they're still excited for the first public opening.
"I think seniors definitely represent our nation's most vulnerable population when it comes to COVID-19. The vaccine program, it definitely has the potential to significantly improve outcomes for our population. Nothing is one hundred percent effective but I think that there's a lot of hope and positivity when it comes to that, that maybe we can return to our new normal as soon as possible," says Nicole Scott, executive director for Brookdale Great Falls.
The vaccine will consist of two doses. The second dose will be scheduled at the time the first dose is administered.
Great Falls Public Schools is also working on a plan to receive vaccines for their staff.
Those appointments will be scheduled for next Monday, Jan. 25, Wednesday, Jan. 27, and Friday, Jan. 29 from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. at Montana ExpoPark’s Family Living Center, 400 3rd St. NW.
"Slots will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis, so community members who are eligible should go online to schedule as soon as possible to secure their slots," according to the press release.
Appointments must be scheduled online at benefis.org/COVIDvaccine
Those without access to a computer can call (406) 455-2500 between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21.
The Cascade County Health Department is urging people to please follow the correct process when scheduling an appointment.
They released this statement Monday evening:
URGENT: Please refrain from calling health care providers at CCHD, Benefis Health System, Alluvion Health, and Great Falls Clinic to try and get an appointment for COVID-19 vaccination…
There will be NO EXCEPTIONS to this age rule due to limited vaccine supply. If you are not able to get an appointment when the portal opens on Thursday, do not show up at these agencies or call your doctor to see if they can get you in.
At this time, only people who are age 70+ can receive the vaccine because our county’s supply is currently very limited. Individuals in this age group will only be able to receive the vaccine at the upcoming joint vaccination clinics at the Montana ExpoPark--not from their doctor or at other upcoming health care appointments.
We know that there are many people in Cascade County who are age 16-69 with health conditions that qualify them for vaccination in tier 1B. We are working very hard to make sure that you get vaccinated as soon as possible! However, at this time, we are starting with individuals who are 70 or older, and we will not be able to make exceptions due to limited supply. This policy was developed in consultation with the State and is the same at CCHD, Benefis, Alluvion, and Great Falls Clinic, without exceptions.
Updates will be released as soon as enough vaccines become available to expand to more people in tier 1B.