Bozeman receives its first doses of COVID-19 vaccine

Six Bozeman Health employees lined up in the emergency room on Monday afternoon to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

They were among the first Montanans to receive the vaccine, which arrived in the state Monday morning.

Dr. Andrew Sullivan, a pulmonary and critical care physician, was the first in line. The vaccination took less than a minute and was met with applause from Bozeman Health staff.

“I’m thrilled it’s here,” Sullivan said after the vaccination. “Honestly, I’m more excited for other people to get it.”

Over the last 11 months, Sullivan said he has seen the coronavirus take lives and upend the health care industry.

“There has been a lot of hardship, but the vaccine brings hope,” he said.

Bozeman Health received 975 doses of the COVID-19 on Monday morning and will distribute them in the coming days to employees who work directly with patients or who are in positions that have limited staffing, said Kallie Kujawa, who is leading the organization’s COVID efforts.

Because the vaccine can cause side effects, such as fevers and aches, Bozeman Health is also staggering vaccination schedules among departments.

Frontline health care workers at the state’s nine other major hospitals are also expected to be vaccinated in the coming days.

This month, Montana will receive 9,750 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which federal regulators approved Friday. The state anticipates receiving additional vaccine doses, including from the pharmaceutical company Moderna, which is likely to receive federal approval for its vaccine soon.

Montana officials are celebrating the news of the vaccine’s arrival.

“Help for our health care workers is on the way,” Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, tweeted Sunday when the Pfizer vaccine was shipped.

Republican Gov.-elected Greg Gianforte will oversee much of the vaccine distribution as he takes office next month.

“As governor, my top priority is to ensure this vaccine is widely available to all Montanans,” Gianforte said in a news release Monday.

The state’s senators vowed to continue supporting vaccine development and distribution at the federal level.

“I’m glad to have led the fight in the Senate to prioritize a COVID-19 vaccine, and will continue working to ensure all Montana communities get access,” said Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican. “There is finally light at the end of the tunnel.”

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said the arrival of a vaccine “mark(s) an extraordinary milestone after many months of hardship and sacrifice” and said it’s a sign the country will be able to get to “the other side of this crisis and get our economy back on track.”

Because it is uncertain when a vaccine will be widely available to the public, officials continue to urge people to follow public health rules, including wearing a mask in public and practicing social distancing.

“What an exciting day it is to be able to offer the vaccine, but I hope that all of us will also remember that we can’t let down our guard,” said Dr. Mark Williams, Bozeman Health’s chief physician officer, shortly before employees received the vaccine.

News of the vaccine comes as Montana is seeing a decline in new COVID-19 cases.

In early November, the state was adding about 1,000 cases per day and many hospitals, including Bozeman Health, were at or near capacity. The number of new daily cases hasn’t topped 1,000 since early December and hospitals are seeing fewer COVID-19 patients.

The state has also driven the positivity rate down from about 18% to 14%.

As of Monday, Montana reported 9,707 active cases with 350 hospitalizations. A total of 62,778 people have recovered and 818 have died from the disease.

The state numbers don’t account for cases added on Sunday because a system upgrade at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services prevented reporting. Sunday’s cases will be added to the state tally in the coming days.

Since mid-November Gallatin County has also seen a decline in the number of new cases and daily hospitalizations, as well as a drop in the positivity rate. Nevertheless, these indicators remain above where they were at the height of the waves last spring and summer.

On Monday, Gallatin County had 420 active cases with 13 hospitalizations. Thirty residents have died and 8,049 have recovered from the disease.