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Gianforte expands Phase 1B to include everyone 60 and older


Last updated 3/3/2021 at 2:03pm

Havre Daily News/File photo

A vial of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine sits on a table Feb. 23 at a vaccination clinic in Holiday Village Mall.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte announced that Phase 1B of the state's COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan will be expanded effective Monday to include everyone 60 and older, while continuing to include people with people 16-59 with qualifying underlying health conditions and Native Americans and people of color at a higher risk of severe illness.

Gianforte said this expansion, which he called Phase 1B+, is part of his administration's focus on protecting the most vulnerable Montanans.

He, again, touted previous changes made to the distribution plan by his administration done earlier this year that reorganized the priority list of people who can get the vaccine.

"Through this thoughtful, data-driven, common sense approach, we will continue to minimize hospitalizations and deaths from this virus," he said.

COVID-19 Task Force Director Maj. Gen. Matthew Quinn said the state estimates that this expansion will add 140,000 people to the current pool of people able to be vaccinated.

Gianforte said Phase 1B accounts for 75 percent of deaths in the state and half of all hospitalizations, and Phase 1B+ includes 90 percent of deaths and 70 percent of hospitalizations.

He said due to an uptick in vaccine production and a steadily increasing allocation from the federal government, Phase 1C will still start as scheduled in late spring or early summer.

He said most jurisdictions in Montana are more than 50 percent through Phase 1B, and 14 jurisdictions are more than 75 percent through, and this efficiency is another reason this change can be made without pushing Phase 1C back.

Hill County Health Department reported Friday that Hill County is 75 percent through Phase 1B.

Gianforte praised health care workers for their efficient distribution efforts in getting the vaccine to people as soon as possible, and credited Montana's encouraging COVID-19 numbers to their efforts.

He said Montanans have been patient for the vaccine despite what he feels is an unfairly low allocation from the federal government, but essential workers, who make up the bulk of Phase 1C, will need to continue waiting until the most vulnerable are taken care of.

"While I wish every Montanan who wanted the vaccine could get one today, the reality is that our supplies are very limited," he said.

Gianforte also announced that 8,700 single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be sent to the state in the coming days to be distributed next week.

However, he said, this 8,700 is likely higher than subsequent allocations will be.

He said this vaccine, recently given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, is 100 percent effective at preventing death from COVID-19.

The website of jamanetwork.com, the network of the Journal of the American Medical Association, reports data from Johnson and Johnson suggests one dose was 66 percent effective in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 and 100 percent effective in preventing COVID-19-related hospitalization and death.

Gianforte said because this new vaccine doesn't need to be kept at extremely low temperatures, it is much easier to transport, which is ideal for Montana.

He said Montanans looking for more information on availability and scheduling for the vaccine should go to https://dphhs.mt.gov/covid19vaccine and help their fellow residents who don't have internet access.

He urged Montanans to get the vaccine as soon as they are able and continue to take precautions like maintaining hand hygiene and social distancing.

When asked about the concern expressed by federal-level health officials that easing restrictions and fully re-opening state economies will cause the U.S. to lose the progress it's made in fighting the virus Gianforte did not address the issue beyond saying Montanans know how to take care of themselves.

He was also asked about the progress of a bill that would abolish the Judicial Nomination Commission and give his office the the authority to appoint supreme court and district court judges.

He said as far as he can tell this law puts into practice what the constitution says and while he still needs to consider the bill he's inclined to support it.

See a column related to the Judicial Nomination Commission on Page A4 of today's edition.


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