GREAT FALLS — Scores of Montana military veterans are scheduled to receive their first dose of the COVID vaccine on Thursday in Havre. The Montana VA Health Care System (MTVAHCS) was recently chosen to lead a national VHA pilot program to bring vaccines to veterans in rural areas, and on Thursday morning, a vaccination team flew doses of the Moderna vaccine in special plug-in coolers from Fort Harrison’s ultracold on-site freezer to Havre. An estimated 250 veterans are scheduled to receive the vaccine on Thursday.
“With the vaccines, our veterans and staff finally have the tool they need to stay safe during the pandemic,” said MTVAHCS director Judy Hayman in a news release. “We are grateful MTVAHCS was selected to lead this pilot program to bring vaccines to rural Veterans. It has been uplifting to see veterans’ relief and joy in being able to get the vaccine. Veterans have shared that they are getting the vaccine so they can protect themselves, their loved ones, healthcare professionals, and return to a life where masking is not required, and people can safely come together.”
MTVAHCS has begun conducting vaccination clinics for veterans who are enrolled in VHA healthcare. Clinics have been held in MTVAHCS’s Miles City Community Living Center, Fort Harrison, Missoula, and Billings. So far, more than 600 veterans and 850 MTVAHCS staff have received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine. About 200 veterans are also scheduled to receive their first dose in Billings on Thursday and in Bozeman on Friday. As vaccine doses become available, MTVAHCS will continue conducting vaccination events around the state and will do so until all enrolled veterans who want to receive a COVID vaccine are immunized.
“Veterans have shown incredible leadership in serving our country and putting their communities before themselves. I have seen this time and time again during the pandemic,” explained Dr. JP Maganito, the MTVAHCS Chief of Staff. “I hope all Montanans follow the example of the veterans who chose to get their vaccine today, and that each person take up their role in helping us end this pandemic.”
Enrolled veterans should not call MTVAHCS or their local clinic to make a vaccine appointment. As veterans become eligible based on risk stratifications and vaccine allocations, MTVAHCS staff will call each veteran to schedule an appointment. High-risk veterans will be called first to schedule vaccine appointments. High-risk veterans are identified as persons 75 years or older and any veteran who has a medical condition that may put them at increased risk based on CDC risk criteria and VHA guidance.
The VA says the Moderna vaccine was 94 percent effective in clinical trials in preventing COVID-19 disease (after the second dose). The vaccine is administered in two doses, 28 days apart. Veterans will be scheduled for their second dose at their first appointment. All veterans who receive a vaccine will be monitored for reactions, side effects, or adverse events. The side effects appear similar to those of other vaccines and are short-lived. After receiving the two COVID-19 vaccinations, people should continue wearing face mask, practice physical distancing, and wash their hands often.
If a Montana veteran is not enrolled in VHA healthcare, they can call 406-447-7350 to find out if they are eligible. Unenrolled veterans are encouraged to call as soon as possible. If a veteran has questions about receiving the vaccine, they can send their healthcare team a secure message through MyHealtheVet or call 844-819-0833 to set up a time to discuss the vaccine.