Gov. Greg Gianforte delivers a press briefing at the state Capitol on Jan. 22, 2021. Credit: Screenshot of livestream by Montana Public Affairs Network

As new cases of COVID-19 trend downward and the state enters the second phase of its vaccination plan, Gov. Greg Gianforte said at a press conference Friday that nearly 14,000 Montanans have been fully vaccinated.

With Montana now in phase 1b of its vaccination plan, Gianforte said, the “light at the end of the tunnel continues to get brighter.”

Still, with the federal government providing the state with about 13,500 vaccine doses a week, in addition to the necessary second shots, not everyone in phase 1b will immediately be able to receive a vaccine. That phase, the second step of Montana’s four-part vaccination strategy, includes people 70 years of age and older, Native Americans and people of color and residents between the ages of 16 and 69 with health conditions like cancer, heart disease or diabetes. 

“We are doing the best we can with the limited supply we receive through the federal government each week,” Gianforte said. “We want to do more, and we can do more. We are ready and prepared to administer more vaccinations. We just need more doses.”

By the end of the month, Gianforte said, all residents and staff at the state’s long-term care facilities and nursing homes who want a vaccine will have received at least their first dose. CVS and Walgreens drug stores are leading those efforts in the state. 

Gianforte also said he’s encouraged by the number of Montanans choosing to take the vaccine. Members of the general public are taking the vaccine at a rate of about 50%, similar to rates for the annual flu vaccine, he said. Between 75% and 80% of health care workers have taken it, Gianforte said, adding that some who have declined said they prefer that older or more vulnerable people have the opportunity first.

Montana has also seen a decline in daily new COVID-19 cases, Gianforte said. He added that no Montana hospital is currently at or above capacity. On Friday, the state reported 393 new COVID-19 cases, down from a daily high of more than 1,600 in November. 

Still, until vaccines become more plentiful, the governor said Montanans should continue to social distance and wear masks in public to further limit the spread of the virus.

“We’re not out of the woods yet. We must continue to take proactive, precautionary steps to limit the spread of the virus,” he said. “I also encourage Montanans to get the vaccine, which is safe and effective. When my name comes up, I’m gonna get my dose.”

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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, 406-465-3386 ext. 4, and follow @cjaadland on Twitter.