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Successful COVID vaccination events held in Havre


Last updated 1/25/2021 at 9:26am

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

A veteran receives a COVID-19 vaccination in in Holiday Village Mall. Montana Veterans Affairs was giving the first round of the COVID-19 vaccine to Hi-Line veterans Thursday.

Editor’s note: This version includes comments by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

The Holiday Village Mall played host to two successful local COVID-19 vaccination clinics, one in the Former Herberger's location run by the the Merril Lundman Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic, and the other in the former Famous Footwear location, run by the Hill County Health Department, Northern Montana Hospital and Bullhook Community Health Center.

The VA's vaccination clinic served local veterans while the general clinic served people who are in Phase 1B of the state vaccination plan, eligible people 70 and older, and both appear to have run like well-oiled machines based on statements made by organizers and attendees.

Hill County Public Health Director and Health Officer Kim Larson couldn't be at the event due to staffing issues at her department, but said in an email this morning the event was successful.

"The clinic went really well yesterday," she said. "We ended up being able to vaccinate just over 400 people. 350 of the 70 and older population and the last of the Hill County educators that we were not able to get them in last week due to vaccine availability."

Both events began at 9 a.m. and had a similar structure, with attendees being screened for symptoms before entering a waiting area, after which they were called to get the vaccine.

After receiving the shot they were asked to stay in a waiting area for 15 to 30 minutes just to make sure there were no immediate side effects, and the VA clinic provided them with vaccination card which entitle them to the second dose.

Dr. Gregory Normandin of the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center helped oversee the VA event and said the experience of running similar COVID-19 clinics there prepared them well for running this event.

"This is our first kind of road trip we've done, and I think all the lessons we learned there have paid off here," he said.

He said the clinic ran ahead of schedule in its opening hour and he was pleased with how it was shaping up.

"I'm very happy with the way things are going," Normandin said.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who helped get the Havre VA clinic opened and named for Havre veteran Merril Lundman, as well as helping allocate funding for moving the Havre clinic to the Holiday Village, praised the vaccination event.

“This is a great day for Montana’s veterans who are now one step closer to being protected from the coronavirus,” Tester said. “I’m proud to have worked with folks on the ground to secure this new and convenient site that will continue to administer highly anticipated vaccines and provide essential health care to our state’s rural veterans. This first round of vaccines will help save lives by effectively slowing the spread in our communities — a key step in ending the ongoing pandemic and getting Montana’s economy back on track.”

Attendees to both events praised organizers and medical professionals for running the events well, with very little wait time or confusion.

"Everything seemed to flow easily, I saw no glitches in the set up. It's like a military operation," said local veteran Ophelia Gustafson.

Carolyn Anderson, who got her shot at the health department clinic after hearing about it from a friend and passing it on to other friends of hers, said there were virtually no delays at that clinic, either.

"There was no wait time to speak of," she said. "We came in, had to fill out a form then the next person was ready and got the shot."

Her husband, Cal Simmons, also praised the event's organizers.

"I'm impressed by how efficient they are," he said.

Attendees at both events also said the shot itself was almost if not painless, no worse than a flu shot.

"I don't even feel like I got the shot," said Frank Messineo at the VA's clinic.

Messineo said his family was one of the reasons he decided to come to the event and get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"I'm doing this because my son lives in California, and he doesn't want me to visit until I get this shot," he said. "I haven't seen him for a year-and-a-half or my grandchildren, that's why I'm doing it."

The Lundman Clinic called everyone they serve in preparation for this clinic and just over half decided to attend the event. Messineo and others at the event urged their fellow veterans to reconsider and sign up for the next event as soon as possible.

"I mean, we have to make an effort," he said. "When you hear 400,000 people dead, you figure something has got to be tried."

Gustafson shared this sentiment, and said the more people get it the safer the community will be.

"I think it's a good idea to get vaccinated not just to protect yourself but to protect others," she said. "... I think it's our duty to protect others in any way we can."

Montana VA Medical Center Director Dr. Judy Hayman said the next VA vaccination clinic will be Feb. 18 and many will then need their second dose so it's critical that people keep their vaccination cards.

A press release by the Montana VA before the event said if a Montana veterans can follow COVID-19 vaccination updates via email, Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/VAMontana/, and Twitter [email protected], and if they have questions about receiving the vaccine, they can send their health care team a secure message through https://www.myhealth.va.gov/mhv-portal-web/home or call 844-819-0833 to set up a time to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine.

Larson said the health department is hoping to hold another clinic next week, but does not know their next vaccine allocation size yet.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

People receive vaccine and sit Thursday in the former Famous Footwear location in Holiday Village Mall during a required waiting period during a COVID-19 vaccine clinic run by Bullhook Community Health Center, Hill County Health Department and Northern Montana Hospital.

She asked people to watch the Havre Daily News, listen to the radio and follow the department Facebook page for updates on clinics in the area.

The health department already has a sizable waiting list for future events, but many attendees of their clinic urged people in Phase 1B to sign up anyway.

Beverley Smith, who got the vaccine early that afternoon, said the vaccine is the only way things are going to get better in the long run.

"I think everyone should get it as soon as they possibly can," she said. "How else are we going to get rid of this thing?"

Larson said she wanted to thank people in the community for being so eager to receive the vaccine and help the department fight the pandemic.

She said the department will continue to do their best to getting the vaccine out to the community and if anyone fits into the Phase 1B category and wants to receive the vaccine, call 406- 400-2369 to get added to the waiting list.


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