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COVID-19 vaccines and testing

The FDA has authorized the COVID-19 vaccines. We’ve worked with the CDC and other federal partners to develop a phased plan to distribute vaccines. Our goal is to do the most good for the most people during this time. On Jan. 10, the CDC updated guidance so all adults 18 years or older who received an original two-dose regimen of Pfizer or Moderna vaccine should get a booster five months later or two months after the Janssen vaccine. We are now able to offer Moderna and J&J/Janssen vaccine booster shots in vaccination clinics and many community clinics, as supply and capacity permit.

Under this plan, we’ll first offer vaccines to these 2 groups:

  • Veterans living in our long-term care facilities, and
  • VA health care personnel. Vaccinating our high-risk VA health care personnel helps us continue providing care for Veterans.

We based this plan on these criteria from CDC guidelines:

  • Risk of becoming infected with the virus
  • Risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19
  • Risk of spreading the virus to others
  • Risk of harm to society if essential workers, including health care personnel, are unable to work

After the first 2 groups, we’ll begin to offer vaccines to more Veterans who are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Your VA health care team will contact you if you’re eligible to get a vaccine during this time.

To get the latest updates and sign up to stay informed about COVID-19 vaccines, visit our vaccine information page.

Free at-home COVID-19 tests

Order four free at-⁠home COVID-⁠19 tests at COVIDtests.gov, or by calling 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489). Order tests now so you have them when you need them. Learn more about COVID-19 testing at VA.

COVID-19 booster shot questions

Montana VA is now giving COVID-19 Booster shots to Montana Veterans. Our first booster clinic was held in Billings at the Benjamin Charles Steele VA Clinic on Nov. 4, 2021 and was followed by a three-day booster clinic for Helena-area Veterans at the National Guard Aviation Readiness Center near Helena Regional Airport from Nov. 8-10 before expanding to locations in Havre, Lewistown, Missoula, Butte, Kalispell, Great Falls and Bozeman.

     

    The initial vaccine remains highly effective in reducing the likelihood of infection and preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death among those infected. The purpose of a booster shot is to “boost” antibody protection when it has decreased over time.  

    1. A booster shot is for people whose immune response may have weakened over time. We offer boosters to people who completed an initial COVID-19 series with Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines if they had their second dose at least five months ago and are 65 years or older, 18 and older with underlying medical conditions, or an adult living in a long-term care setting or living or working in a high-risk settings. The CDC also recommends a booster for adults who received a J&J vaccine at least two months ago.  CDC's recommendations allow a mix-and-match dosing for booster shots.  
    2. A third dose is for people who may not have had a strong enough immune response from the first two doses. We offer third doses to people who are moderately to severely immunocompromise and received either Moderna, Janssen (J&J), or Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines. This includes those with organ transplants and those diagnosed with conditions that are considered to have a similar level of immunocompromise. Data shows they are more at risk of serious, long-term illness from COVID-19. They may benefit from a third dose to make sure they have enough protection against COVID-19. 

    Currently, the Montana VA is hosting booster clinics. Clinic information is subject to change:

    For the month of January

    Billings VA Booster Clinic
    Every Thursday (under normal conditions) 

    10:00 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Benjamin Charles Steele VA Clinic
    1766 Majestic Lane in Billings, MT.
    (Appointments requested. Walk-ins will be limited.)

    Fort Harrison VA Booster Clinic
    Every Thursday (under normal conditions) 

    8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Fort Harrison VA Medical Center
    3687 Veterans Drive, Fort Harrison, MT (in the Helena area) 
    (Appointments requested. Walk-ins will be limited.)

    *More listings will be published as they become available. Veterans can also contact their local VA Clinic for more details. 

    If you choose to get your booster shot outside of VA, you can locate a vaccine site at Vaccines.gov - Search for COVID-19 vaccine locations. Make sure to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card when you go, no matter where you choose to get a booster.

    Veterans who decide to get a COVID-19 booster vaccine outside of VA are encouraged to share this information with your VA health care team.  

    • You can send a picture of your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card to your VA provider through secure messaging. 
    • Or, bring your vaccine card with your next appointment so staff can enter that into your health record.  
    • You can also add your vaccine information to your MyHealtheVet health summary for your own records. To add your information, you’ll need a premium MyHealtheVet account. 

    If you receive your care from the VA, we have records of your age and your risk of severe COVID-19. We will work to reach out to individuals at highest risk from COVID-19 to make sure they are aware of the recommendation for a booster. We trust Veterans, their families and caregivers, and our staff. We will accept self-reporting of your high-risk condition or occupation.  

    You should bring your vaccine card or record with you to your visit so we can make sure you get your booster at the right time. 

    1. Montana VA Healthcare System can provide booster shots with the Moderna or the Janssen (J&J) vaccine. 
    1. The Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control have determined that booster shots can be administered with any COVID vaccine in use in the United States.   

    Before scheduling an appointment, patients should make sure they fit one of the below criteria:  

    1. Are an individual who received a Pfizer or Moderna series at least five months ago are eligible if they are: 
      1. Age 65 years and older 
      2. Age 18+ who live in long-term care settings  
      3. Age 18+ who have underlying medical conditions  
      4. Age 18+ who work or live in a high-risk setting 
    2. Are an individual who received a Janssen (J&J) vaccine at least two months ago, they are eligible to receive a booster shot.  
    1. Are an individual who received a J&J/Janssen vaccine at least two months ago and are 65 years or older or are considered high risk.   
    1. Through the SAVE LIVES Act, spouses, caregivers, family members living in the same home, and CHAMPVA recipients of Veterans are eligible to receive a Moderna/J&J booster through Montana VA Healthcare System.  

    They will need to schedule an appointment by calling Montana VA Healthcare System’s scheduling line at 877-468-8387 and select Option 2, and then Option 2 again. Non-Veterans and unenrolled Veterans must also be registered before they receive a COVID-19 booster from Montana VA Healthcare System.

    1. Veterans who receive care in VA and are recommended for booster shots will be identified through the VA’s Veterans Outreach Tool, then contacted and advised of the recommended booster shots. VA Clinics will be offering boosters by appointment or on a walk-in basis. See VA Montana Health Care for details.  
    1. Veteran will call to self-schedule to make their appointments at Montana VA Healthcare System scheduling line at 877-468-8387 and select Option 2, and then Option 2 again. 
    1. Veterans who received a COVID-19 vaccines outside of VA, as well as those who were vaccinated in VA for whom we don’t have records of their high-risk condition (such as spouses or caregivers), may not be contacted automatically. Contact your local VA facility for information about how to receive a booster shot.   

    Yes, of course!

    Yes, if available. Veterans will also be offered flu shots at their primary care appointments and can call to schedule a flu shot at 877-468-8387 and select Option 2, and then Option 2 again. Montana Veterans can find community locations to get no-cost flu shots at flu shot locations across Montana.

    1. Montana VA is authorized to give the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.  
    1. In the past, the Montana VA did provide some J&J vaccinations. However, at this time, we cannot guarantee that we will have supplies of J&J for boosters. 
    1. The J&J vaccine a traditional carrier vaccine. It involves injecting individuals with an inactive adenovirus, or common cold virus, that carries the genetic code of the coronavirus spike proteins. The body’s immune system is then trained to create antibodies and memory cells that protect against the actual virus. 
    1. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were developed using messenger RNA technology. That involves delivering a piece of genetic code from the coronavirus to host cells in the body. The body then makes copies of the virus’s spike proteins, which stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies and develop memory cells.  
    1. Individuals have reported minor side effects after receiving a third shot of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine. They include: pain at the injection site, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and fever, but are often not long-lasting. 
    1. Data was more limited for the J&J vaccine, but some people reported fever, fatigue and headache after receiving a second dose of that vaccine. 
    1. Bring your COVID-19 vaccine card at the time of your appointment.  
    1. Share your booster status with your Primary Care team if you get your booster outside the VA.  
    1. Make sure you received your second dose of Moderna at least five months ago or your single dose of Janssen (J&J) vaccine two months ago.  
    1. Masking is required inside all Montana VA sites and clinics.