Many are talking about the COVID-19 vaccine and asking how close we are to receiving it here locally. Currently, Tribal Health staff are working closely with the State of Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services regarding vaccination availability, prioritization and schedules. We wanted to give the community an update. 

Are there any approved vaccines? 

Currently, there are two vaccines that are front runners for approval. The Pfizer vaccine received FDA approval and the Moderna vaccine was waiting for approval as of this printing. 

Is the vaccine safe? 

Yes, the vaccine process underwent the same procedure for any new vaccine. There are three phases: 

  • Phase I, a small group of healthy people, around 20-100, will receive the vaccine primarily to test its safety. 
  • Phase II, a few hundred people receive the vaccine to primarily test its effectiveness. These people are more representative of the people most vulnerable to Covid-19. 
  • Phase III, vaccines are tested on thousands of people from the general population to further test safety and effectiveness and to look for reactions.

When will a vaccine come to our community? 

The Pfizer vaccine will likely be the first to arrive to the state and will likely go out to the bigger hospitals first. Moderna is the second vaccine and can be shipped in smaller shipments. We could see a combination of these 2 vaccines at Tribal Health. Vaccines are anticipated to arrive mid to late December.

What is the availability of vaccines? 

Initially, there will be a limited amount of vaccines available, and this is why the state plan prioritizes the most vulnerable groups that should be vaccinated immediately. Tribal Health will continue to advocate for vaccines for the Tribal Health population as more and more vaccination doses become available. 

How is this different from other vaccines? 

COVID-19 vaccines will require 2 doses. Depending on which one is given, people will need the second shot 21 or 28 days apart. 

How is Tribal Health receiving the vaccination? 

Tribal Health has been planning with the state of Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) to receive our shipment of vaccine. A draft of the state’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan can be found here. This is our normal chain of command for receiving vaccinations and will allow for collaboration with Lake County Public Health.

Is there going to be enough vaccine for everyone? 

Eventually. The first wave of immunizations will be offered to healthcare workers and those that live in long-term care facilities. It is anticipated that we will receive large enough numbers to vaccinate the next tier in the Spring with widespread availability in the summer. 

Who will be prioritized for vaccinations? 

In the Montana COVID-19 vaccination plan, populations of focus for initial COVID-19 vaccination will likely fall into four categories: 

1. Critical infrastructure workforce (includes Healthcare Personnel (HCP) 

  • Healthcare personnel (i.e., paid and unpaid personnel working in healthcare settings, which may include vaccinators, pharmacy staff, ancillary staff, school 
  • nurses, and EMS personnel) 
  • Other essential workers 

2. People at increased risk for severe COVID-19 illness 

  • Long Term Care Facilities (LTCF) residents (i.e., nursing home, assisted living, independent living facility residents) 
  • People with risk factors for severe COVID-19 illness (see 
  • People 65 years of age and older 

3. People at increased risk of acquiring or transmitting Covid-19 

  • People from racial and ethnic minority groups
  • People from tribal communities
  • People who are incarcerated/detained in correctional facilities
  • People experiencing homelessness/living in shelters
  • People attending colleges/universities
  • People who work in educational settings (e.g., early learning centers, schools, and colleges/universities)
  • People living and working in other congregate settings 

4. People with limited access to routine vaccination services

  • People living in rural communities
  • People with disabilities
  • People who are under- or uninsured 

What can I do to protect myself and my family right now? 

As our numbers continue to rise, Tribal Health would also like to remind everyone that it is just as important to get your influenza shot. We are looking to vaccinate as a way to reduce spread of flu that also is a respiratory illness and that lands our vulnerable populations in the hospital. It’s just as important now as it was earlier to physically distance, wear your mask and wash your hands. Also, minimize gatherings, potlucks and delay travel if possible. 

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