COVID-19 vaccines will be available to everyone aged 16+ starting on Sunday, March 28, the Missoula City-County Health Department said on Wednesday.
The news was first reported by NBC Montana.
“With Missoula County cases again on the rise, we have entered the race between vaccine rates and case rates that experts warned us about,” Missoula County Health Officer Ellen Leahy said in a release. “It is the right time to open vaccine eligibility to everyone age 16 and older while continuing to follow COVID-19 precautions until we can get the vaccination rate up.”
The first public clinic under the new guidelines will be the Missoula City-County Health Department clinic on Sunday at the former Lucky's Market at Southgate Mall. Appointments can be made by going to the vaccine information page at covid19.missoula.co or by calling 406-258-INFO (4636) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.
Also on Wednesday, the MCCHD said two recent COVID-19 cases in Missoula County have been identified as being a variant of the virus.
Both cases were identified as being the California variant, which the Center for Disease Control says is 20% more transmissible than the the non-variant version of the virus. The CDC also says it has an impact on some of the treatments for COVID-19 patients.
It is not known if the cases were contracted locally in Montana or outside of the state, the health department said. Variants have now been identified in a number of counties in the state.
The health department is also worried about an increase in cases. Test positivity rates increased by 2% over the past week and the 7-day incidence rate per 100,000, which as been the measure used to determined COVID-19 prevalence, is also rising.
“After two months of declining cases, our incidence rate recently increased from 11 to 18,” Leahy said in a separate release.
Hospitalizations have also increased among younger populations, the health department said. Of the eight hospitalizations over the past week, three of them were people in their 20s, four were in their 60s and one was over 70.
Around 50% of Missoula County's total population is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and appointments are open.
"Officials strongly urge the public to book appointments to get vaccinated against this pandemic virus. Continued diligence to slow the spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing, mask use, and handwashing also remain critical tools to stop spread while we work to get more of our community vaccinated," the release said.
Jordan Hansen covers news and local government for the Missoulian. Contact him on Twitter @jordyhansen or via email at Jordan.Hansen@Missoulian.com