Health Department to Stop Hosting Mass Vaccination Clinics at Fairgrounds

The county’s vaccination rate has been at 44% since the end of December

By Mike Kordenbrock
Children’s doses of COVID-19 vaccines are prepared at vaccine clinic at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in Kalispell on Dec. 1, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Flathead City-County Health Department plans to stop hosting mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics at the county fairgrounds soon, with plans for the last vaccine clinic at the site to take place on Feb. 1.

The health department made the announcement in a press release issued last week. The site will continue operations in January, and walk-ins are accepted.

The closure doesn’t mark the end of COVID-19 vaccine availability in the county. As noted in the press release, pharmacies, healthcare providers and pop-up clinics are still offering the vaccine. The health department will also continue to offer the COVID-19 vaccine. The health department advises people to use vaccinefinder.org and type in their zip code to check for available appointments.

Low turnout at the vaccine clinics was a factor in the decision. “We can’t continue to use that fairgrounds resource when we don’t need it,” Health Officer Joe Russell said. “If I could have more people get vaccinated, I would, but it’s still going to have to be their choice to get vaccinated.”

The health department had been renting the location from the county. “It’s kind of an opportunity cost to them. If they’re just keeping it booked up for us, then people in the community can’t use it either,” Russell said.

Unvaccinated people continue to make up most of the COVID-19 hospitalizations in Flathead County. The Flathead County vaccination rate for COVID-19 has been at 44% since Dec. 31, and 51% of the county’s eligible population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

On Jan. 17 there were 36 people hospitalized at Logan Health because of COVID-19. Of those people hospitalized 20 were not vaccinated. Seven people were receiving treatment inside intensive care units, including five unvaccinated people. Two people were on ventilators, and both of those people are not vaccinated, according to the hospital.

            Unvaccinated Montanans have accounted for 83% of COVID-19 hospitalizations (4,701) and 79% of COVID-19 deaths (1,052 people) in the state since April 2021, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

            Earlier this month, Dr. Cory Short told the Beacon that medical professionals with Logan Health were continuing to have what he characterized as honest, transparent conversations with people about getting the COVID-19 vaccine, and that some people have changed their minds and chosen to get vaccinated. Short, who works as a hospitalist and the executive physician for the hospitals’ acute service care line, said for some people the decision to get vaccinated comes after hearing firsthand accounts from friends and loved ones. In some instances people change their mind only after they are hospitalized with COVID-19.

            “I think when people realize just how sick they can get from this, that’s been an eye-opener,” Short said.

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