Gianforte announces vaccine expansion

Phase 1B+ will include include those 60 and older and expand the list of qualifying underlying diseases for those between the ages of 16 and 59.

By: - March 2, 2021 4:14 pm

Gov. Greg Gianforte speaks after being sworn in to office on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021 in the Governor’s Reception Room of the Montana State Capitol. (Photo by Thom Bridge of the Helena Independent Record)

More Montanans will soon be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine as Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Tuesday that he is expanding the list of eligible recipients under Phase 1B.

The new phase — Phase 1B+ — will go into effect Monday, Gianforte said. The additional step to Phase 1B+ will expand Phase 1B to include those 60 and older and expand the list of qualifying underlying diseases for those between the ages of 16 and 59. You can view the full updated plan here.

  • The full list of qualifying medical conditions added in Phase 1B+ include:
  • Asthma (moderate to severe)
  • Cerebrovascular disease (affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune-weakening medicines
  • Neurologic conditions, such as dementia or liver disease
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
  • Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)

“I encourage Montanans to get one of these safe, effective vaccines when they’re able,” he said. “Every time a Montanan gets a vaccine, it helps put us one step closer to a normal life.”

The population that comprises Phase 1B+ accounts for 90 percent of deaths in the state and 70 percent of hospitalizations, Gianforte said.

General Matt Quinn, executive director of Governor Gianforte’s COVID-19 Task Force, estimated that 140,000 more Montanans would be included in the expansion to phase 1B+.

According to the state’s COVID dashboard, 260,705 Montanans had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 90,463 are fully vaccinated. Of the 260,705 Montanans who received their first dose, more than 200,000 went to those in the Phase 1B population, Gianforte said.

The decision to expand Phase 1B came after a Department of Public Health and Human Services poll found that majority of jurisdictions were more than halfway through Phase 1B, with 14 jurisdictions reporting more than 75 percent completion, he said.

Gianforte also announced that the state will receive 8,700 doses of the newly approved Johnson and Johnson vaccine but said that amount is just an initial bump and not to expect that large of an allocation in the weeks to come. Along with the Johnson and Johnson allotment, the state will also receive 24,500 first doses and 21,000 second doses of the Moderna vaccine next week.

Addressing the Johnson and Johnson vaccine’s efficacy rate against different variants of COVID-19, Quinn said, “take the vaccine that’s offered to you,” and pointed to the vaccine’s 100 percent effectiveness in preventing hospitalizations and death.

No variants have been detected in Montana, Gianforte said. But, he said, Montana State University has “expressed concern” about the possibility of a couple of variants, which have been sent on for further verification.

The news to expand Phase 1B comes as President Joe Biden announced the U.S. will have enough coronavirus vaccines available for every American adult by the end of May.

Gianforte has long been critical of the Biden administration’s vaccine allocation to Montana, often saying the state is not getting its fair share.

On Tuesday, he thanked the administration for including Missoula in the Federally Qualified Health Center Program but said, “I still think we’re owed more vaccinations.”

He credited the increase in vaccine allocation to the state to ramped up production by Pfizer and Moderna and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine’s approval.

“We’re still getting the same percentage. But it’s a larger number, so that’s good news for Montana,” he said.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. Keith is no longer a reporter with the Daily Montanan.