Health officials acknowledge COVID vaccine 'line jumpers' in Gallatin County

Posted at 3:17 PM, Feb 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-21 23:06:05-05

BOZEMAN — The Gallatin City-County Health Department, along with Bozeman Health, is addressing two new concerns when it comes to local emergency rules and vaccine distribution - and according to Health Officer Matt Kelley, that includes how some people have found a way to “jump the line."

“While we are down significantly from where we were in November and that is absolutely a good thing, I want to make sure we are keeping in mind the long term,” Kelley said Friday during his weekly press call.

The numbers in the latest surveillance reports from Gallatin County, according to Kelley, are optimistic with an air of caution.

Kelley says while case positivity is down below 5 percent for the first time in a long time, a small group of people found a catch in the system.

“There’s a small number of people who are not yet eligible for 1-B who are finding ways to sign up for clinics,” Kelley says.

“We’ve learned that some patients we contacted to have them sign up have taken the links specific to them and shared it with multiple people who are not with Phase 1-B,” says Kallie Kujawa, Incident Command at Bozeman Health. “Unfortunately, those people who did not meet actual 1-B eligibility were able to receive a vaccine dose when they shouldn’t have, even though we have a screening process.”

Kelley says the number of people who got their vaccines early is hard to tell, somewhere between 10 and 50, between both the Health Department and Bozeman Health.

Both he and Kujawa stress that Montana and the county are still in Phase 1-B of the state's vaccination plan.

“We have been consistent in sharing that Bozeman Health patients would hear from us directly to schedule a vaccine appointment,” Kujawa says.

“I think most people are just trying to do the right thing but they are also eager to get the vaccine, so when an opportunity presents itself, they feel the need to jump at it,” Kelley says.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the Montana House, by majority, endorsed House Bill 257, which would allow businesses to not be required to enforce local public health orders and restrictions.

Kelley says it’s troubling.

“Some of it seems like it would confuse the process,” Kelley says. “It would make the process longer. Public health practitioners are working their guts out to serve their communities. I hope that people are not acting out of frustration.”

Kelley says about 10,500 first doses have been administered in the county so far, with 1,000 first and second doses given this week and another 1,000 at Bozeman Health.

He says vaccines are still limited, so patience helps.

“Everyone is going to get their turn,” Kelley says. “We are going to work through this but every dose that we give to someone who is young and healthy is a dose that we are not giving to somebody’s grandparent.”

The Gallatin City-County Board of Health is scheduled to meet next Thursday at 7 a-m via Zoom.