Lewis and Clark Public Health announced Friday that residents of four neighboring counties are now welcome at its drive-through COVID-19 inoculation clinics amid waning demand for the vaccines.
Residents of Broadwater, Jefferson, Powell and Meagher counties who are at least 16 years old can attend any LCPH clinic at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds. Any individual 16 or 17 years old must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.
As with any of LCPH's vaccination clinics, an appointment is required. Those interested can get more information and register for an appointment by visiting the county's online COVID-19 Hub at www.helenamontanamaps.org/LCPHCovid19HUB/ or on Lewis and Clark Public Health’s website at www.lccountymt.gov/health.html. Look for the "COVID-19 HUB" link on the main page.
The move comes following a sluggish response to the county's expansion of its vaccine rollout.
LCPH announced it would make six weeks worth of vaccination appointments available to all county residents 16 and older beginning April 2. Those appointments did not fill up as fast as anticipated.
"We weren't getting any interest at all," LCPH Disease Control and Prevention Administrator Eric Merchant said in a Friday afternoon interview. "We have some concern about vaccine hesitancy at this point."
As of Tuesday, county data show 44% of the total eligible population has received an initial dose of COVID-19 vaccine, far from the magic number of 70% needed to achieve herd immunity.
Merchant said the LCPH staff will work hard in the coming weeks to better educate county residents about the safety and effectiveness of the various vaccines being offered.
While vaccine hesitancy is a concern, Merchant said the more broad availability of vaccines thanks to the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program enacted by President Joe Biden has created more points of distribution that may be more appealing to county residents. As such, the need for mass vaccination clinics such as those at the local fairgrounds is less.
As a result, LCPH also announced the cancellation of the final two weeks of its six-week run of drive-thru clinics. About 45 people had appointments for the May 4, 5, 11 and 12 clinics that have been canceled and "will be called and offered alternative options," a LCPH news release states.
The final first-dose Pfizer clinic at the fairgrounds is slated for April 28. The clinics will continue to operate until all second dose clinics are completed on May 19.
"While the drive-thru mass vaccination clinics at the Fairgrounds will be closing, there will be many ways for residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine including local pharmacies, community health centers and local hospitals," the news release states.
Some of the county's remaining supply of vaccine will be redistributed to those other providers, Merchant said.
LCPH's "Vaccine Team" will pivot to "smaller, location-based pop-up clinics in the community."
Merchant said those pop-up clinics will be more targeted and will focus on under-served populations such as York and those in Helena experiencing homelessness.