COVID-19

Flathead County Urging Residents who Want Vaccine to Sign Up Now

County has already scaled back to two-a-week vaccine clinics; hospital group launches mobile clinic to increase access to shots

By Andy Viano
Veterans wait in line to receive COVID-19 vaccinations at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in Kalispell on Feb. 3, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Flathead City-County Health Department is asking residents interested in getting immunized against COVID-19 to make appointments now, as interest in the vaccine wanes and the county scales back its weekly vaccine clinics.

In a press release issued April 29, the health department announced it will only offer vaccine clinics twice a week — on Tuesdays and Wednesdays — for the foreseeable future. The department had been holding clinics at least three days a week. The rollback comes as demand for the COVID-19 vaccine has slowed and alternative vaccinators, primarily local pharmacies contracted through the federal government, have taken some pressure off the county’s operation.

Vaccine appointments can be made through the county’s website at flatheadhealth.org/covid-19-vaccine or at a pharmacy via vaccinefinder.org.

Flathead County residents also have the option of getting vaccinated without an appointment on Tuesday, May 4 when the county will hold its first walk-in clinic at the Flathead County Fairgrounds from 4 to 5:30 p.m. In addition, Kalispell Regional Healthcare (KRH) has set up a mobile vaccine team that plans to offer inoculations to large businesses and other interested organizations in the county.

 “Our goal is the get vaccine into our community as widely and efficiently as possible,” Health Officer Joe Russell wrote in the release. “Given a review of local data, there are still many eligible people in Flathead County that have not been reached. We want to emphasize that now is the time to receive a vaccine. We have ample supply and individuals who sign up can expect minimal wait times before receiving an appointment.”

According to the latest available numbers, 23,726 Flathead County residents were fully immunized and another 8,000 or so had received the first of two doses. The county’s vaccine eligible population is 83,831, and Russell previously said it was unlikely the county would reach his modest goal of 40% of eligible residents immunized, far fewer than the number needed to reach so-called herd immunity. Late last week, the health department was averaging around 75 new requests for vaccine appointments per day.

“It’s all about protection and prevention,” Russell wrote. “Choosing to get the vaccine provides you protection against the virus, and higher vaccination rates can help our community stay healthy and keep our schools and businesses open.”

Residents who are interested in the vaccine but have not signed up for an appointment could also have another option soon, as the mobile vaccine clinic operated by KRH made its first stop last week, offering vaccinations to faculty, students and staff at Flathead Valley Community College. KRH Nursing Executive Director Audra Saranto said about 50 people attended that clinic, and additional clinics at interested area businesses are now being scheduled. This summer, Saranto anticipates the mobile clinics will set up across the Flathead Valley at various locations and events, offering interested residents a chance to be immunized without having to either miss work or coordinate a time to visit the county-run clinics at the fairgrounds.

“We want to be out and visible in the community for the whole summer,” Saranto said. “Our main goal is to keep the community safe and healthy, and remain open.”

Any business or organization that would like more information on hosting a mobile clinic can contact Saranto directly at (406) 751-5436.

New cases of COVID-19 have been slowly creeping higher in the last two weeks, with 187 new positive tests reported in Flathead County from April 19-30, an average of 15.6 cases per day. Prior to that point, the county was averaging 10.3 cases per day in April. Health officials are stilling urging residents to take precautions to limit the spread of the virus, including wearing face coverings indoors.

Ninety-one Flathead County residents have died from complications from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Six people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 as of April 30.

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