Yellowstone Co. health officer: First week of newest vax phase booked solid at Billings hospitals

Posted at 6:28 PM, Jan 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-18 20:28:51-05

BILLINGS — Hours after the Yellowstone County Unified Health Command opened vaccine phase 1B, all available vaccination appointments for the week at Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare and RiverStone Health were booked, said John Felton, county health officer, on Monday.

“This week, we’ve got in town about 2,000 doses. We found out over the weekend that was available. We made the announcement. At this point all of the slots for Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare and Riverstone Health are filled for the week," Felton said.

The Billings hospitals received a total of 2,100 doses of vaccine over the weekend. On Monday, local health officials opened phase 1B for vaccinations.

Now, people 70 and older, people 16 - 69 years old with high-risk medical conditions, and American Indians and people of color that have a high-risk of severe COVID-19 complications are eligible to receive the vaccine.

The high-risk medical conditions include: cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), Down syndrome, heart conditions, weakened immune systems, severe obesity, sickle cell disease and type one and two diabetes mellitus.

To receive a vaccine in phase 1B, people will not have to show medical records documenting their condition, Felton said.

“We’re not going to require some sort of medical record proof. We expect people will understand when their turn comes up and they come in at the appropriate time. From a resource perspective, it’s just too much to expect that we’re going to have people that will check every medical record and things like that," Felton said.

People without a primary care provider who are in phase 1B can still sign up to get vaccinated at one of the Billings hospitals.

Currently, there is still far more demand for the vaccine in Yellowstone County than supply. In a news release Monday, RiverStone Health staff said more than 6,000 vaccinations have been given to health care personnel, first responders and residents and staff in long-term care facilities as part of phase 1A.

People in phase 1A are still eligible to receive a vaccine if they haven't yet.

Felton said there is no list people can put their name on to get a vaccine. People have to keep an eye on the websites of the individual hospitals from week to week to book an appointment. (Links found at end of this article.)

As of Monday, there are no slots open for the rest of the week at any Billings hospital, Felton said.

“We know that the demand is really, really high, but what we don’t want to do is tell people that they can sign up unless we know there is vaccine (available). So at this point, each week we will be putting out an announcement when vaccine is available and how much. Then people can sign up and self-schedule. What we hope is that over time, we’ll see some settling and predictability with the vaccine flow so we can schedule out farther than just the one week. Right now we just can’t do that," Felton said.

Felton said he expects more vaccines to start arriving to the county on a regular basis within the coming weeks or months, but he urged patience until the vaccine supply increases.

“We really don’t know. We know that there’s more vaccines in the pipeline that are undergoing safety and efficacy testing. We certainly anticipate that production will continue to spin up. Right now though, with the demand so much higher than the supply, I think we just need to ask people to be patient. We believe that for phase 1B in Yellowstone County is probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 45,000 or 50,000 people," Felton said.

Yellowstone County residents can click the links below to schedule a COVID-19 vaccination in Billings:

RELATED: Yellowstone County health officials move to Phase 1B COVID-19 vaccinations