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More Montanans soon to be eligible for coronavirus vaccines

More Montanans soon to be eligible for coronavirus vaccines

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HELENA — Montana is making more people eligible to receive coronavirus vaccines starting next week, Gov. Greg Gianforte said Tuesday.

Beginning on March 8, all Montanans between the ages of 60 and 70 will qualify along with people ages 16 and older with the additional preexisting conditions of asthma, cystic fibrosis and liver disease, Gianforte said.

Maj. Gen. Matt Quinn, director of the state's COVID-19 task force, said next Monday's change will make another 100,000 to 140,000 Montanans eligible for the vaccine.

Making vaccines available to front-line health care workers, everyone age 60 and older, those older than 16 with preexisting conditions, Native Americans and other persons of color will prioritize the groups that account for nearly 90% of Montana's deaths due to the pandemic, Gianforte said.

The eligible groups also include more than 70% of those who have been hospitalized, he said.

Some larger counties may take longer to offer vaccines to residents ages 60 to 70 and those with the additional preexisting conditions depending on how many of those already eligible have been vaccinated, said Bekki Kirsch Wehner, bureau chief for the Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Bureau within the state health department.

Montana is still expected to move into Phase 1C of vaccine distribution in the spring or early summer, Gianforte said. That phase will include front-line essential workers such as teachers, first responders and grocery store staff, along with those living in group homes and corrections facilities.

Phase 2, which includes the rest of the state's residents age 16 and over, is expected to start in late summer.

Montana is scheduled to receive 33,000 first doses of vaccines this week, including 8,700 of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The state will get another 21,000 second doses.

More than 90,000 Montanans are fully immunized and another 170,000 have received a first dose, the state reports.

The state surpassed 100,000 known total cases Tuesday, with at least 1,372 deaths. Eighty-three people are hospitalized.

Gianforte said he's encouraged with the trends showing decreasing case numbers and hospitalizations. So far the state hasn't seen any of the COVID-19 variants, Quinn said.

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