Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Montana’s vaccine plan gives us hope

| January 3, 2021 12:00 AM

As more information about the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Montana becomes available, it feels like we finally can see the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel that’s shrouded our lives for the past nine months.

This week health officials reported nearly 17,000 high-risk Montana health-care personnel received the first dose of vaccine in December, and transitioning has begun for the next phase of the distribution plan. Most of us would like to get our vaccine sooner rather than later, but the reality is that for most of us, it means waiting until late spring or early summer. That seems like an agonizingly long time, considering our lives were upended in March of 2020.

The state’s distribution plan estimates the first phase, which targets frontline health-care workers and staff and residents at long-term care facilities, will be complete by the end of February. The next phase, to immunize those age 75 and older, essential workers, congregate care and correctional facility residents, and American Indians and other people of color considered high risk, will start mid-January and roll on through March. Next in line are those 65 and older, people 16 to 64 with underlying conditions and more essential workers, and finally, starting in July, all remaining Montanans 16 and older can get the vaccine.

Of course it makes perfect sense to vaccinate those most vulnerable to the virus early on, and save the healthiest bunch of people until last. Patience, understanding and vigilance about wearing masks and other precautions will be paramount for Montana and the United States to conquer COVID-19 by midyear.

While our state and local health officials seem to have a handle on an orderly and timely distribution of the vaccine, we’re already hearing about a slow and messy process to vaccinate in other parts of the country. An Associated Press article on Dec. 31 told how a 69-year-old piano teacher in Florida stood in line overnight in a parking lot with hundreds of other seniors to get the vaccine. The woman waited 14 hours and witnessed a near brawl when people cut in line.

The AP’s report was disturbing, noting “overworked, underfunded state public health departments are scrambling to patch together plans for administering vaccines.” The distribution already has resulted in “long lines, confusion, frustration and jammed phone lines,” the AP noted.

While Montana’s distribution plan seems solid, there is the wild card of not knowing exactly what the state’s vaccine availability will be.

So take a deep, cleansing breath, polish off the rest of those New Year’s goodies and brace yourself for a long winter. We’ve come this far, we’ll go the distance.