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Montana’s first COVID vaccine doses to go to major hospitals

December 7, 2020 GMT

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine will go to health care workers in the state’s major hospitals, Gov. Steve Bullock announced Monday.

Hospitals first in line for the vaccine are in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell and Missoula.

“By prioritizing the vaccination of those on the frontlines, we can help ensure our hospitals can continue serving patients while we continue to manage the spread of this virus in our communities,” Bullock said in a statement.

Drug company Pfizer has submitted a request for emergency authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine that this week will be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration. If approved, Montana could receive 9,750 doses of the vaccine in mid-December.

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Recipients of the Pfizer vaccine must receive a second dose 21 days after the first dose. The second round of doses will be shipped to the state separately.

Large hospitals were selected as the recipients in the first round because the Pfizer vaccine must be stored in cold temperatures, and doses are shipped in boxes of 975 per box. The number of doses distributed to each hospital will be based on a survey conducted by the state’s health department.

A second shipment of vaccines is expected a week after the first round, which will contain both the Pfizer vaccine and a vaccine developed by drug company Moderna. The second shipment will be distributed primarily to rural hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, according to the governor’s office.

The Moderna vaccine, which is also under review for emergency authorization, includes 100 doses per box and does not require cold storage, making it more easily delivered to rural settings and small facilities.

Montana will follow vaccine distribution recommendations made by the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which prioritized health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities in the initial distribution phase.

Montana health department acting director Erica Johnson urged Montana residents to remain vigilant and continue to follow public health measures, which include a statewide mask mandate, even after the start of vaccine distribution.

More than 68,000 people across Montana have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since March, including 720 new confirmed cases reported Monday. The true number is likely far higher because not everyone is tested and some people can be infected without showing symptoms.

The state has reported 742 deaths due to the virus, and 492 people were hospitalized with it Monday.

For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for some — especially older adults and people with health problems — it can cause more severe illness and death.