Health officials in Gallatin County asked for the help and continued patience of the public as the slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine continues.
Health officer Matt Kelley said during a press conference Friday they are seeing a small number of people who don’t yet qualify for the vaccine signing up for clinics. The state is in the 1B phase, which includes those over 70, people of color and Native Americans at elevated risk and those with certain underlying health conditions. Kelley said they’ve become aware of people finding ways to sign up for a vaccine who don’t meet the phase 1B requirements.
“I think in a lot of cases those are people who are uncertain or hearing about ways, backdoors into clinics, and they’re uncertain about whether they should sign up and they’re reaching out to us and they’re saying ‘Hey, I don’t know that I’m eligible yet but can I sign up?’ and our answer to them is no,” Kelley said. “In some cases, I would suppose there are some people who are consciously jumping the line.”
Bozeman Health has been contacting its patients who meet the phase 1B qualifications directly, Bozeman Health’s COVID-19 incident command lead Kallie Kujawa said.
Some Bozeman Health patients contacted have shared the appointment sign-up link with other people, Kujawa said Friday. Though Bozeman Health has a screening process for their clinics, Kujawa said several people not in phase 1B were able to receive a dose.
Kujawa and Kelley asked the public to not share appointment sign-up links and to not try to get a vaccine dose ahead of schedule. Managing giving out about 1,000 doses a week makes it hard to verify the eligibility of those who sign up, Kelley said.
“Every dose that we give to somebody who’s young and healthy is a dose we’re not giving to somebody’s grandparent,” Kelley said. “Every dose that we give to somebody who’s young and healthy is a dose that we’re not given to somebody who has one of those serious underlying health conditions.”
Kelley noted he has been impressed by the number of calls his department has received from people “just trying to do the right thing,” who’ve been sent a sign-up link and are wondering whether they are eligible.
The county has received 12,525 first doses of the vaccine so far, Kelley said. The department doesn’t have any more first dose vaccines in storage. Next week, the focus will be on administering second doses.
When Gallatin County will be able to vaccinate higher volumes of people is still unclear, Kelley said.
The number of doses sent to Gallatin County will depend on demand in other parts of the state, Kelley said, and will likely be impacted when the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is approved for use.
“We’re planning for the future where we hope that we see larger allocations,” Kelley said. “That’s challenging, because we don’t really know how to plan for that because we don’t yet have those figures.”