Vaccine eligibility expands to 16 and older as cases rise

Missoula County opened COVID-19 vaccine availability to all county residents 16 and older on Sunday, March 28. This was four days earlier than the state of Montana which opened vaccine eligibility April 1. Those over the age of 16 can receive a Pfizer vaccine while anyone over 18 can receive the Johnson & Johnson or Moderna vaccine.

“With Missoula County cases again on the rise, we have entered the race between vaccine rates and case rates that experts warned us about,” Health Officer Ellen Leahy said. “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.”

After reaching the target incidence rate of 25 in mid-February, Leahy explained that the County’s COVID-19 incidence rate has hovered around 11 for the past several weeks. However, last week it rose to 18.

“Perhaps we got comfortable with cases going down and staying low,” Leahy said. “Our purpose today is to let people know that we have reversed direction. Cases are now going up and positivity in testing is going up and hospitalizations are going up. It is affecting all ages including hospitalizations among 20-29 year olds. That happens to be our largest group of cases followed by 30-39-year-olds. [COVID-19] is very present and spreading.”

Along with the rise in cases, two variants of concern were detected in Missoula County this past week. Leahy explained that the variants are in the middle category of concern. The main thing they know about the variants are they have a 20% higher rate of transmission and can neutralize some of the person’s antibody response.

“There is no information that the vaccine is a miss,” Leahy said. “Even if it doesn’t work quite as well on one variant, it is still extremely highly effective.”

Leahy said Missoula County wanted to ensure vaccinations were available first to the more vulnerable populations. However the vaccination clinics have been filling much more slowly, they have increased cases and they are getting a good vaccine supply, “not what we can deliver but good.” For these reasons the Missoula County COVID-19 Vaccine Coordination Team decided to open up vaccinations to everyone 16 and up earlier than April 1.

“This could be our last big jeopardy with this pandemic – if we could keep this rise from getting bigger and get people in for vaccines. If you are kind of waiting and seeing [if you] want to get the vaccine, I strongly suggest that you make your decision sooner and get in there,” Leahy said. “It will be open to 16 and up – you don’t have to consult any lists or anything. You can just sign up for the next clinic that is available.”

Residents can make appointment by going to the Vaccine Information page at or by calling 258-INFO (4636) from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily.


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