Montana Sen. Jon Tester says the Trump administration has failed to produce a national COVID-19 vaccine plan, resulting in unnecessary delays getting the vaccine to the country. 

In a letter Monday to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Tester and 44 other Democratic senators urged the federal government to develop a nationwide vaccine strategy. In their letter, the senators noted that only 36% of vaccines so far distributed have been administered, a number they claimed is a consequence of poor communication with states and lack of transparency over distribution data. 

“With our health system and economy in crisis, and millions of lives at stake, we cannot afford for this vaccination campaign to continue to be hindered by the lack of planning, communication, and leadership we have seen so far,” Tester and his colleagues wrote in the letter. “It is the federal government’s role to ensure states, Tribes, localities, and the public are receiving the resources and support they need, rather than requiring every jurisdiction to manage on their own without the benefit of the national resources and perspective that only the federal government can provide.”

Tester and his colleagues included a number of recommendations in their letter, including providing guidance for states, local governments and health care providers for vaccine distribution. The senators also suggested the federal government specify how it would help resolve staffing and supply issues at the local level. 

As of Jan. 8, Montana has administered more than 33,000 of the 52,000 doses shipped to the state. Another 41,000 doses are expected to arrive in the coming weeks. 

Montana is currently in the first part – phase 1a – of its four-step vaccine plan. Phase 1a includes frontline health care workers, health care workers with patient contact or virus exposure and residents of long-term care and assisted living facilities. 

latest stories

Interior Secretary signs CSKT water compact

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland formally executed the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes water compact Friday, finalizing a long-running effort to negotiate an agreement that reconciles the tribes’ historic treaty rights with Montana’s modern water rights doctrine.

Montana hospitals in ‘dire’ straits as COVID rages

This week, hospitals from Billings to Missoula are instituting or preparing to institute a “crisis standard of care” under which medical services and supplies are rationed. While case numbers are still slightly lower than they were last winter during the virus’ previous peak, hospitals are being overwhelmed with COVID patients.

Chris covers Native American issues as a Report for America Corps member based in Billings. He also monitors the Montana Supreme Court, federal courts and criminal justice issues. Before joining MTFP in 2020, Chris most recently covered tribal affairs and Wyoming's Wind River Reservation for the Casper Star-Tribune, and has also reported for the Wisconsin State Journal. Contact Chris at caadland@montanafreepress.org, 406-465-3386 ext. 4, and follow @cjaadland on Twitter.