LEWISTOWN, Mont. — Montana VA Health Care System (MTVAHCS) is bringing 200 Moderna first doses to veterans in the Lewistown area on Wednesday, Feb. 24.
MTVAHCS, which was selected to be the lead on a national Veterans Health Administration (VHA) pilot program to bring COVID-19 vaccines to rural veterans, will fly the vaccines early Wednesday morning from the Fort Harrison Medical VA Center’s temperature-controlled freezers to Lewistown.
As the lead site for the VHA’s national rural distribution pilot program, MTVAHCS is documenting and sharing best practices to help other VA sites across the United States distribute vaccines to rural veterans. MTVAHCS has used fixed wing aircraft through this pilot program to bring vaccines to veterans in Havre, Kalispell and now Lewistown.
“These vaccines save lives, and we are grateful to be able to get these doses to rural veterans as soon as possible,” MTVAHCS Executive Director Dr. Judy Hayman said. “We serve 47,000 Montana veterans in the fourth largest state in the country. Our teams are excited to fly 200 vaccines to Lewistown area veterans and help veterans and their communities become safer from the pandemic.”
There are 450 Veterans who receive their primary care at the Lewistown VA Clinic.
Besides access to required vaccine storage freezers, another challenge to rural vaccine distribution is finding a space large enough to safely administer vaccines and staff the clinics. The Feb. 24 vaccination clinic will be held at the Fergus County Fairgrounds and staff from several MTVAHCS sites will be coming to help veterans receive vaccines. All veterans who receive their first dose of the Moderna vaccine this Wednesday will be scheduled to receive their second dose approximately four weeks later.
By the time Lewistown area veterans have rolled up their sleeves, MTVAHCS will have provided first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to over 5,500 Montana Veterans (over 11% of all enrolled Montana veterans). Vaccines have been provided by MTVAHCS in ten different locations and at 29 vaccine clinics since late December. As vaccine doses become available, MTVAHCS will continue holding vaccination events around the state and will do so until all enrolled veterans who want to receive a COVID-19 vaccine are immunized.
Enrolled veterans do not need to contact MTVAHCS or their local clinic to make a vaccine appointment. All eligible veterans will be contacted based on risk stratifications and vaccine allocations, MTVAHCS staff will call each veteran to schedule an appointment. High risk veterans will be called first to schedule vaccine appointments. High risk veterans are identified as persons 75 years or older and any Veteran who has a medical condition that may put them at increased risk based on CDC risk criteria and VHA guidance.
If a Montana veteran is not enrolled in VHA healthcare, they are encouraged to call (877) 468-8387 and select Option four to find out if they are eligible. Unenrolled veterans are encouraged to call as soon as possible.
Veterans can follow COVID-19 vaccination updates via email, Facebook (@VAMontana), or Twitter (@VAMontanaHCS). If a veteran has questions about receiving the vaccine, they can send their healthcare team a secure message through MyHealtheVet or call (877) 468-8387 (Option 2) to set up a time to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine.
MTVAHCS is also holding a virtual town hall for Veterans on Thursday, Feb. 25, from 5 to 6 p.m. The goal of Thursday’s livestreamed town hall is to provide updates about COVID-19 vaccines and MTVAHCS’s vaccine distribution. To access the virtual town hall, veterans should call 1-866-478-3358 on at 5 p.m. The virtual town hall can also be livestreamed by going to http://www.access.live/MontanaVATownHall. A majority of the virtual town hall will be reserved to answer veterans’ questions.