Veterans in rural Kalispell, Montana, received COVID-19 vaccines following an airplane delivery from Fort Harrison near Helena into Glacier Park International Airport Feb. 3.
A private charter delivered 400 Moderna vaccines for high-risk Veterans in one of the more remote parts of Montana, about 200 miles from Fort Harrison.
The Kalispell VA Clinic serves just over 4,800 local Veterans and serves Veterans from communities such as Kalispell, Cut Bank, Plains, Seely Lake, Eureka, northern Idaho, and Canada. Besides access to required vaccine storage freezers, another challenge to rural vaccine distribution is finding a space large enough to safely administer vaccines and staff the clinics. The vaccination clinic was at the Flathead County Fairgrounds. Staff from four MTVAHCS sites came to help Veterans receive vaccines.
It could have taken weeks to deliver the vaccine given the weather, terrain, and demand. However, VA found an alternative delivery to serve Veterans.
“We’ve got two 96-year-olds, three Purple Heart recipients, and six female Veterans receiving vaccines today,” said Dr. Judy Hayman, director of the Montana VA.
The mass vaccination is VA’s second in Montana. To do it, VA staff from four different locations combine vision, planning, and teamwork to execute the mission.
“Everybody sent staff from everywhere to make this happen,” said Tiny Hudson, Kalispell VA clinic manager. “Kalispell Clinic rocks.”
VA will continue to provide Veterans some security in these uncertain times. For Veterans, receiving the vaccine, everything changes.
“It’s a feeling of freedom not only for me but others I might infect,” said Army Veteran Carol Beaubion. “I think it’s wonderful. I was so surprised.”
Veterans seem grateful and talk about the light at the end of the tunnel. However, cautious optimism prevailed.
“I am still going to wear my mask until this is over,” said Vietnam Veteran Robert Suffia.
Some are anxious to see their grandkids again. Others say it would be nice to see a movie soon. For healthcare providers, the work is long and stressful. But it’s worth it.
“This means everything to me,” said Montana VA nurse Jeri Sullivan. “This means serving all these Veterans, and isn’t that what we are here for?” At the clinic, moments of relief and joy flash across the room. Another battle fought and won: victory and hope from a simple vaccine.
About the program
The Montana VA HCS is the lead site in the country for VHA’s national rural distribution pilot program. The MTVAHCS is documenting and sharing its successes across the nation to help other VA sites distribute vaccines to rural Veterans.
This was the second rural distribution event of the pilot program. The first rural vaccination event was Jan. 21 in Havre and brought Moderna vaccines to 240 rural Veterans.
Keep up to date on how to get a vaccine from VA at https://www.va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine/.
Jill Atwood is the director of Communications at VA Salt Lake City Health Care System