Blaine County completed second Phase 1B COVID vaccination clinic
February 17, 2021
The Blaine County Health Department and One Health Sweet (formerly Sweet Medical Center) hosted a clinic last Thursday and Friday to administer vaccinations for COVID-19 to people in Phase 1B of Montana's vaccination plan. This was the sponsoring groups second clinic to vaccinate for people 70 years of age and older plus individuals with elevated health risks. The clinic last week drew about 200 participants.
Phase 1A vaccinations for medical workers, first responders and nursing home residents and workers was completed earlier. About 500 Blaine County residents are now totally immunized. That "totally immunized" number includes earlier vaccinations at Fort Belknap. The total number of completed first doses of vaccine is near 1500, about 30% of the 4910 people in the county eligible to receive the vaccine. Blaine County currently has the second highest average number of COVID vaccine doses completed per 1000 residents among counties in Montana. Statewide in early February about 10% of Montanans had received the first dose of the vaccine. Less than 4% of Montanans are fully immunized having received both doses.
Run up to the second vaccine clinic
Fort Belknap currently has the larger number of residents with completed immunizations. Jana McPherson-Hauer, Blaine County Health Officer and Public Health Nurse, explained, "Fort Belknap first got vaccines in late December. They had refrigeration capability to receive the earliest vaccine from Pfizer. Indian Health Services and Fort Belknap Public Health did a great job getting their vaccination program going." For statistical purposes data from Blaine County and Fort Belknap are combined on state reports and public websites regarding COVID-related matters.
McPherson-Hauer said Phase 1A vaccinations, mainly for health related workers and nursing home residents, were done with groups of 10-20 rather than the larger clinics. Most of those vaccinations were completed in early January. Recent Phase 1B clinics, for older residents and those with underlying health issues, began in late January with first doses. Participants in the first clinic will get their second Moderna vaccine dose at the end of February, the group vaccinated last week will get their second dose in March.
One Health Sweet and the Blaine County Health Department have collaborated on handling requests for vaccinations and hosting the larger clinics. Though both sponsoring groups received vaccine it was decided to administer the Phase 1B vaccine at one time through larger clinics. Ashley Nordboe and Tiffany Carson, both registered nurses at One Health Sweet, explained, "When we get a request for a COVID vaccination at our clinic we refer folks to the Blaine County Public Health Department. The health department schedules appointments and handles the paperwork for people coming for vaccinations."
The logistics of the larger COVID vaccination clinics
Both of the county's two-day vaccination clinics were held at the Commercial Building at the County Fairgrounds near Chinook. People wishing to have the vaccine had to list their name with public health. Groups of people to be vaccinated received a letter with an appointment time. Each group had about 20 people scheduled and were to the building at half hour intervals. After check-in patients were seated to meet social distancing recommendations and given an orientation as to how the doses would be given.
Each person went individually to a table where health care workers administered the dosage.
After the shot each participant moved to the opposite end of the building where they were seated as a group. Protocols for the vaccine include 15 minutes of observation before participants can leave the building. Ashely Nordboe said, "The Commercial Building is big enough we can maintain social distancing and also monitor folks who have completed their shots. We could not accommodate this number of people and meet all the requirements in our clinic's building."
The shots were administered by nurses with One Health Sweet, the Blaine County Health Department and students in the nursing program at Aaniiih Nakoda College at Fort Belknap. Dee Brockie, a first year nursing student who lives in Havre, was doing her second clinic. She said the head of the nursing program at Aaniiih Nakoda College and the Blaine County Public Health Nurse work together to schedule student nurses, usually about six to ten students for each day of a clinic. Brockie added the student nurses had also gave shots at some flu shot clinics.
Asked how she felt about working at the COVID clinic, Brockie said, "I'm proud to be a part of this monumental public health effort at such an early stage of my nursing career." She added, "The pandemic is an historic event and I'm fortunate to be a part of the response."
Carol Elliot and her husband, Wally, were part of the group receiving vaccinations on the first day of the recent clinic. Sharing why she had decided to get the vaccine, Carol offered, "I believe in science and when the people who have studied the disease recommended being vaccinated I got an appointment. I'm all in!"
Ashley Nordboe and Tiffany Carson, nurses at One Health Sweet, gave shots at both Phase 1B COVID clinics and had the vaccine themselves during the 1A phase for medical workers. Responding to a question about "reactions" to the vaccine, they agreed the symptoms were minor. Ashley said after the first shot she had a bit of soreness at the injection site and added, "I had virtually no noticeable response after the second shot." Tiffany recalled after the first shot she had some minor fatigue but, "not enough I had to miss work." Jana McPherson-Hauer said she was not aware of any serious adverse results from either the first or second doses.
McPherson-Hauer said when Phase 1B is completed Phase 1C will begin, likely in mid-spring. Phase 1C will include frontline essential workers (for example school teachers and grocery store workers), persons aged 60 years and older and others aged 16-59 with medical conditions not eligible for earlier vaccination. She added, "In our area people working in agriculture will be considered essential workers. We feel maintaining the food supply is essential work." Phase 2 will follow and is the final phase for all remaining Montanans aged 16 or older.
Asked about the status of COVID cases in Blaine County, McPherson-Hauer said, "We're seeing a steady lowering in the number of cases. The trend in new cases has been downward in January and so far in February." Responding to the Governor's recent removal of the mask directive, she added, "Masking is a tool shown to help reduce the incidence of new COVID cases. I would like to see people continue to use masks until the data shows the masks are no longer needed."
One other suggestion was offered by the Blaine County Public Health Nurse: "I encourage people who want a COVID vaccination to call our office and get on the list. Sometimes we have extra vaccine doses and will call people from our list to take the available doses." Public Health's phone is 357-2345. Updates on COVID cases and other health issues can also be found online at the county health site: facebook.com/blainecountyhealthdepartment/