Initial shipments of the Pfizer vaccine began Monday, bodes well for combatting COVID-19

The COVID-19 vaccine road show began in earnest Monday with the mass shipments of the Pfizer vaccine to all points on the compass in the United States and its territories. However, the initial shipments are aimed at the frontline healthcare personnel. It will be a long wait in line before the general public at large is vaccinated – current estimates are in late June or early July.

The CSKT Tribal Health Department expects to receive the Pfizer or the presently being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration Moderna vaccine doses by late December or early January, said Chelsea Kleinmeyer, THD Community Health Division director. And once the Food and Drug Administration approves the Moderna vaccine that its advisory committee is reviewing this week, a small floodgate will open. Tribal Health will have access to some the initial 20,000 doses that vaccine that the Montana Department of Health and Human Services will receive. THD has opted to receive its COVID-19 vaccines from the Montana DPHHS instead of the Indian Health Service, where it gets its other pharmaceuticals.

THD has access to a medical freezer to store the vaccines at the extreme temperatures needed to properly store the Pfizer vaccine at Salish Kootenai College. THD also has one of the freezers on order that will be delivered in February.

The DPHHS received 9,750 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Monday and will dole it out throughout the state to the larger frontline medical facilities in the state for their frontline medical personnel.

Those Montana healthcare facilities include: Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings; Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital; St. James Hospital in Butte; Benefis Health System and Great Falls Clinic in Great Falls; St. Peter’s Health in Helena; Kalispell Regional Medical Center, and Providence St. Patrick Hospital and Community Medical Center in Missoula.

On Monday, St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings was the first healthcare facility to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, and the first to inoculate its frontline staff.

On Tuesday, Providence St. Patrick Hospital and Community Medical Center in Missoula received their first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine.

The Montana Senatorial delegation weighed in on the Pfizer vaccine release.

“To be where we are today is truly remarkable. Thanks to American innovation, the first COVID-19 vaccine is approved for emergency use and ready for distribution. This will help save lives, support our healthcare heroes, protect jobs and rebuild our economy,” Republican Senator Steve Daines said in a statement. “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. There is finally light at the end of the tunnel.”

Democrat Senator Jon Tester said in a statement: “This is an extraordinary moment: Montana’s frontline health care workers are now getting the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations, a truly historic milestone in our fight to manage the spread of this virus and get our economy back on track. We owe a debt of gratitude to our health care workers and their families during this crisis that can never be repaid. I’ll keep holding folks across the federal government accountable to ensure this vaccine is distributed to all Montanans quickly and efficiently, so we can put this virus behind us once and for all, and get back to work.”

Kleinmeyer said THD is making plans that will follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s and the DPHHS lead of order of vaccination.

In Montana that means:

1a – First in line: 50,000 healthcare workers and 14,000 nursing home residents.

1b – Second in line: 42,000 essential workers; 32,000 teachers; and 7,100 first responders.

1c – Third in line: 260,000 people with pre-existing conditions; and, 42,000 people age 65 and older.

Forth in line: General population of adults, and youth 16 years and older.

Tribal Health will vaccinate its frontline healthcare providers first once it receives the vaccines.

Kleinmeyer said THD will get the Moderna vaccine as soon as it is available. The Moderna vaccine is preferable to the Pfizer vaccine because it only has to be stored at minus-46 degrees. The Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at minus-90 degrees.

“The Department of Health and Human Services wants to save the Moderna vaccine for the rural areas of the state because it can be stored at a lower temperature than the Pfizer vaccine,” Kleinmeyer said. “We are making our plans that will follow the initial frontline doses. It will be a blended approach based on the Tribal Health beneficiary numbers, the vaccine numbers and who we can access right away.”

Kleinmeyer said THD has an advisory committee that will establish a tier system on who to vaccinate following the initial vaccination of the THD frontline and secondary medical delivery personnel.

Once the Moderna vaccine is approved, the state could get a total of 49,000 doses before the end of the year. That is enough to vaccinate 4.6 percent of the state population.

The Montana DPHHS will be in the “Limited Supply” phase of vaccine distribution for about two months as there isn’t enough of the Pfizer vaccine to vaccinate the approximately 50,000 healthcare workers and the 14,000 nursing home residents and staff. And, the number of doses expected in December is not enough to give all of them the first of the two-dose vaccine — a second shot is required within three to four weeks after the first dose. After that, the vaccines are expected to become more widely available, though the exact timeline for that is still unknown.