Children’s photographs are increasingly scarce – and demand is mixed – in rural Montana

When children ages 5 to 11 were approved for a lower dose of Pfizer’s pediatric covid-19 vaccine in November, Annie Edwards was eager to give her daughter Hannah, then 5 years old, because of her medical condition. Her latent health stemmed from her preterm birth.

“She was on a ventilator for the first month of her life. Throughout this whole difficult ordeal, I just kept thinking about those memories,” Edwards said.

Many parents in more urban areas of Montana were quick to find this vaccine when it became available. Findings are more difficult for Edwards, who lives in rural Dawson County, where just 38 percent of the eligible population is in Montana’s eastern county of 9,000 fully vaccinated residents.

She called the Dawson County Health Department, but officials said they were waiting for more parents to show interest before booking a visit to the children’s clinic for the shot. The local hospital also does not provide vaccines for younger children.

Waiting was not an option for Edwards. So she and her daughter made the nearly 500-mile round trip to Billings while visiting family over Thanksgiving weekend. They were scheduled to return on December 19 for a second dose of the girl.

“How many people can say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to make two trips to Billings?’ That’s a lot of miles,” Edwards said, admitting that she’s fortunate enough to have the means to do so.

Lauren Wilson, a pediatrician in Missoula and vice president of the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, has heard from parents like Edwards across the state who can’t find a nose injected in their hometown.

“I think the availability of vaccines in rural areas has been a factor in Montana’s struggle to get vaccinated as quickly as other states,” she said.

State and many local public health authorities did not create targeted campaigns to educate people about where 5 to 11 year olds can get vaccinated, which makes it a lot harder for parents. Wilson said a lack of access and a lack of advertising both played a role in the drop in childhood immunization rates in Montana.

So far, about 15% of the estimated 90,000 children in that age group Statewide received the first dose of the children’s covid vaccine. Montana ranked 33rd between states in terms of childhood immunization rates, and this is nearly 17% lower than the national rate, according to one KFF analyzes federal data.

22 of Montana’s 56 counties had vaccinated less than 5% of children ages 5 to 11 as of December 10, according to data collected by the state health department.

Half a dozen counties said no children under the age of 12 were vaccinated: Carter, Daniels, Dawson, Garfield, McCone and Wibaux. All six are in rural eastern Montana, where driving distances between towns are huge.

In both McCone and Wibaux counties, health officials said they are not providing the injection because of low demand and it will be difficult to achieve the minimum order of 100 doses in the range. 10 week period that photos can be stored in a regular freezer or refrigerator. Photographs can be stored longer in special supercooled storage units, which are rare in rural areas of Montana.

Parents in McCone and Wibaux counties who want their children vaccinated must drive 40 to 100 miles round-trip.

Despite storage problems and low demand, some rural health departments, such as in Richland County, are providing injections for children. Public health nurse Kathy Helmuth said she’s seen parents from parts of eastern Montana, where childhood shots are not readily available, begin walking to the vaccine clinics she has administered. at local schools.

In November, Helmuth vaccinated nearly 40 children, more than she expected. She said some shots had to be discarded because demand was too low to be able to switch to a 10-dose vial.

“I always have to remind myself that we get vaccinated is important and that is more important than a dose or dose that I can waste,” she said.

According to Jon Ebelt, a spokesman for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, local health departments that are having difficulty providing vaccines because of low stockpiling or demand should contact agencies. state health agency.

Ebelt declined to answer questions about areas the department has identified as vaccine deserts or whether the local health department would be contacted for help.

Jennifer Kates, Senior Vice President of Global HIV and Health Policy at KFF, said the number of children being vaccinated nationally had slowed over the Thanksgiving holiday and continued to decline.

“If it wasn’t very easy, very accessible and most importantly, they wouldn’t do it for complicated reasons,” she said.

Kates said politics may be affecting people’s willingness to get their kids vaccinated in deeply conservative states like Montana. Based on Latest KFF . survey data, about half of Republicans said they would not vaccinate 5 to 11-year-olds, and an additional 10% said they would only do so if asked.

Kates said educating parents about how to safely and effectively use childhood vaccines will take more work than necessary for earlier rollout to older children. That burden will largely fall on state and local health departments, she said.

The Montana Department of Health said it will continue to advertise the covid vaccine to everyone who is eligible, but has no plans to advertise the shot for children, like Utah did.

The Montana Medical Association is planning a statewide campaign aimed at families. And Matt Kelley, executive director of the Montana Institute of Public Health, said his organization is working with local health departments to promote childhood immunizations.

“It was a chicken and an egg thing. You need to have a certain amount of demand to have a sustainable clinic, but to have demand, you have to have that accessibility,” says Kelley.

Kelley said mobile vaccine clinics could be part of the solution.

Pharm406, a mobile pharmacy based in Billings, has been providing vaccine clinics in eastern and central Montana throughout the pandemic. Owner Kyle Austin says he has about 15 children’s vaccine clinics. He says turnout at his clinic in Glasgow is low but he has vaccinated 60 children at the Red Lodge.

“It’s really hard to see where the demand is,” says Austin.

In Sanders County, on the western edge of Montana, getting to the nearest pediatric imaging site requires a 70-mile detour to Idaho or a more than 100-mile drive to and from the larger communities of western Montana.

To date, 99% of the county’s 5 to 11 year olds have not received their first dose.

“We are definitely going to see lower immunization rates because of that barrier,” said Nick Attorney, a local health provider and former county health official.

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