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Lewis and Clark County ready to expand vaccine eligibility
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Lewis and Clark County ready to expand vaccine eligibility

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Phase 1B COVID-19 Vaccine

Hundreds of people in Phase 1B lined up at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds on Jan. 19 for a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

The Lewis and Clark COVID-19 Vaccine Planning Group is ready to meet Gov. Greg Gianforte's directive to open vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older by April 1.

"We're ready to expand," said Lewis and Clark Public Health Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Administrator Eric Merchant, who is also a member of the state's and county's vaccine planning groups.

Merchant said the county's vaccine distribution network, which includes the county health department, St. Peter's Health, PureView Health Center and hundreds of volunteers, among others, has been operating at about 30% of its overall capacity.

"We're in a good place," he said. "We've built up a lot of capacity, but haven't had the supply."

While the amount of vaccine trickling into the state is still his primary concern, Merchant said the county has seen an uptick.

The two other legs to the three-legged stool that is vaccine distribution are point of distribution infrastructure, such as the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds clinic, and staffing.

Merchant said if the county plans to vaccinate three times as many people, it will take three times the effort.

"The heart and soul of this community really has to come out to get this done," he said.

The county expects to begin registering its residents older than 16 years old for vaccinations as early as April 1, and clinics for those individuals could begin as soon as the week of April 4.

Merchant said the registration process will be on the same first-come, first-served basis as previous registration events.

LCPH also plans to open its own call center for those in need of live support. Rocky Mountain Development Council had been operating a call center to assist the elderly with registration, but as the vaccine rollout moves into later phases focused on younger residents, Merchant said LCPH wanted to relieve RMDC of that burden.

More information can be found on the county's online COVID-19 Hub, www.helenamontanamaps.org/LCPHCovid19HUB/.

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Local Government and Crime Reporter

Nolan Lister is a reporter at the Helena Independent Record with an emphasis on local government and crime.

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