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One year later: Great Falls health officials reflect on COVID vaccine

PA Tim Street receives COVID vaccine from nurse Karen Slotness at Great Falls Clinic on Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Posted at 11:07 AM, Dec 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-17 13:07:23-05

GREAT FALLS — Wednesday, December 16, 2020 was when the first COVID vaccines were administered in Great Falls. The first person to receive the vaccine on that day was Tim Street, a physician assistant at Great Falls Clinic.

During the year since then, organizations that have dealt with the vaccine, including the City-County Health Department and Great Falls Public Schools, said there have been challenges but dealing with the vaccine has also been beneficial.

For CCHD deputy health officer Bowen Trystianson, dealing with the COVID vaccine over the past year has been a trial and error process.

"Initially we had that large scale clinic out at our fairgrounds. Highly successful and, of course, we got a lot of people who were really wanting to adopt the vaccine early. Then from there, after that closed down we kind of had to shift gears and shift tactics if you will. The rest of the group that seemed to want vaccines needed us to be where they were,” Trystianson said.

CCHD deputy health officer Bowen Trystianson

As of Thursday, December 16, an estimated 47% of Cascade County residents eligible for the vaccine were fully vaccinated. That's slightly below the overall vaccination rate in the state of 52%.

According to the latest data from the CDC, more than 202 million people nationwide, or about 61%, of the country's population, are now fully vaccinated.

"I do think there has been a lot of value and a lot of learning in what we've done. We have always done a large-scale exercise for a mass vaccination with our flu clinics that we do out at the fairgrounds. We used a lot of what we have learned from that when we started rolling out the COVID vaccine, but what we're learning now is maybe more nuainsced ways to target specific populations to go into places,” Trystianson said.

GFPS nurse Erica Harp said the vaccine has given school nurses an opportunity to help educate the public.

GFPS nurse Erica Harp

"Nurses always prioritize evidenced-based practices and having evidenced-based information to give out to our colleagues and families. So I think that has been a really great roll for us to advocate flu vaccines, COVID vaccines, other vaccines, but to do it with the right information,” said Harp.

The vaccine, she said, has provided more than just an opportunity to educate and advocate though.

"I think it gave us hope,” Harp explained. "The school nurses did work with Alluvion Health at some of our shot clinics that were located inside Great Falls Public Schools buildings and the response I kept hearing was that it was nice to be in a hopeful environment."

Both Trystianson and Harp said the vaccine roll-out is something they will not soon forget.

As for the future of the vaccine, Trystianson said there will likely continue to be boosters and they will be released for different ages.