Community Vaccination Clinic Works to End Pandemic One Shot at a Time

Since Robert Grayson became the first person to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at the community vaccination clinic in Great Falls on Jan. 25, Cascade County has hit a milestone: 8,000 people have now been vaccinated against the deadly virus.

Benefis Health System, the Cascade City-County Health Department, Alluvion Health, and Great Falls Clinic teamed up to offer the COVID-19 vaccine at Montana ExpoPark to community members by tier, beginning with those age 70 and older and now extending to those 16 and older with pre-existing conditions that put them at high risk for a serious COVID-19 case.

Robert, 79, said he was relieved to begin the vaccination process, which includes two shots and six weeks of building immunity.

“COVID at my age is just so dangerous,” he said.

With tears of joy to see the vaccination process underway in Great Falls, Molly Beck shepherded her uncle John Borgreen, 82, through the clinic. He’s on oxygen and recovering from sepsis.

“It’s so well organized, with helpers and the Red Horse (Squadron),” she said. “The logistics are such an undertaking with all the agencies coming together.”

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Appointments are required to receive a vaccination and are limited by the number of doses available. Learn more and sign up at Benefis.org/COVIDvaccine.

Valerie Flaherty, RN, is among those who have volunteered to work at the COVID vaccination clinic. Normally a home health nurse with Benefis Community Care, Valerie wanted to be at the forefront of helping end the COVID pandemic locally.

“The older generation is eager for the vaccine. They’ve been cooped up and want to get back to normalcy. They want to socialize,” she said.

Kathleen Kuka, 82, said a friend was reluctant to get the vaccine in case of side effects. The vaccine doesn’t include a live virus so it can’t cause COVID-19. However, some people experience fatigue, a mild headache, arm pain, or brief flu-like symptoms after the shot.

“It’s your choice of feeling crappy for a day, but you live,” she said during the mandatory 15-minute wait after her shot. “I feel a big relief now. I’ve been hoping and praying for this vaccine. I’m so glad for everything everyone is doing to make this happen.”

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Ameda Smith, an LPN at Benefis Senior Services, urged people to get the vaccination, which has proven to be highly effective, as soon as their turn comes.

Ameda's mom,  Karen Smith, was a registry RN with Benefis. She spent much of her career vaccinating children, and one of the last things she did as a nurse was vaccinating Benefis employees against the flu this fall. She contracted COVID-19 in October and spent three weeks in our ICU. She died Nov. 1.

"She was a huge proponent of vaccines," Ameda said. "She would have been first in line to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine."

Ameda gratefully rolled up her arm as soon as the vaccine became available to healthcare workers in late December.

"I've noticed some people holding off getting the vaccine. Millions have taken this vaccine. To me, it's just smart," she said. "I'd take the chills as a side effect over the ICU or ongoing shortness of breath. Being tired, having a small fever is nothing compared with what COVID can do."