HELENA — It was a historic and emotional morning at the Lewis and Clark Fairgrounds on Tuesday as phase 1A of COVID-19 vaccine distribution began in earnest in Lewis and Clark County
Lewis and Clark Public Health, partnering with St. Peter’s Health and PureView Health Center, are holding a clinic by appointment this week for the broad vaccination of frontline health care workers located in the county.
Hundreds or frontline health care workers such as dentists, long-term care facility staff, private practitioners, behavioral health professionals and more got their first dose of the COVID-19 Vaccine Tuesday morning.
Those getting vaccinated made it clear their emotions of joy and relief as they began their first step towards being fully vaccinated against COVID.
Shodair Children's Hospital Activities Assistant Cole Adams said he was getting vaccinated to be able to help his community, see his family and not worry every time he went out.
“You know, it’s just been a long time coming,” said Adams. “I’m just ready for this whole thing to be behind us and it really feels good to be a part of this.”
Even those administering the vaccination doses didn’t hide how happy they were for this day to come. St. Peter’s and PureView staff chatted and laughed with their fellow health care workers as they administered the vaccine.
“It’s really exciting to finally be able to provide a vaccination for all of these people and other medical providers in the community,” said St. Peter’s Emergency Department Nurse Sarah Maddock, RN. “Everyone has been really thankful to have the opportunity to get the vaccine.”
“It feels great, like a light at the end of the tunnel after what’s been a very difficult and unprecedented year,” said St. Peter’s Pharmacist Rachel Moore.
There are around 6,000 health care workers in the county. More than a thousand have already begun their vaccination process.
By all appearances the clinic appears to have been a big success. Cars were lining up almost an hour before the clinic was set to open at 7:00 a.m. and a steady torrent of vehicles continued throughout the morning.
After getting vaccinated the health care workers waited 15 minutes in the fairgrounds parking lot to ensure they didn’t have a severe reaction to the vaccination. St. Peter’s said of the hundreds of individuals they’ve vaccinated they have yet to see a severe allergic reaction to either vaccine.
Even with the steady stream of eager health care workers, staff said the clinic ran smoothly and averaged around a vaccination a minute in the early hours.
“It is so exciting,” said PureView CEO Jill-Marie Steeley. “We were here at 6:00 in the morning and cars were lined up starting at 6:15 a.m. We are so happy to be able to provide this service for the healthcare professionals. This is a big day.”
County Health Officer Drenda Niemann said it was a celebrated moment in time for public health and the community.
“We are making history today,” said Niemann. “When I got here this morning, I got choked up because it is a beautiful day. The vaccine is safe and it’s the one thing that’s going to get us over the hump and back to some sense or normal.”
Niemann added it’s incredibly important to get those critical health care workers protected so that they can then care for others in the community.
After vaccination of Phase 1A individuals, the state will then move to Phase 1B which includes teachers, first responders, grocery workers, adults 75 years and older and other high-risk groups.
Phase 1B is expected to begin in mid-January, however that timeline is heavily dependent on the number of vaccine doses available to the State of Montana.