COVID-19 vaccine supply remains limited; Lyon’s Drug and Northwest Colorado Health now on board as immunizers
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — About 1,900 people will have received COVID-19 vaccinations by the end of the week, said Routt County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington at Wednesday’s Board of Health meeting. That represents about 7% of the county’s population.
“We keep inching up, but remain limited on supply — and factors beyond our control,” Harrington said.
Routt County Director of Public Health Roberta Smith became emotional as she talked about the demand continuing to far outweigh the supply.
With the majority of health care workers, long-term care staff and residents, and first responders now vaccinated, the focus is on people who are 70 and older.
“We love that people want vaccines,” she said. “We love that response. If I could drive to everyone’s house and give them a vaccine, I would love that.”
Smith also acknowledged frustration around the state’s changing guidelines on priority groups. Smith said the county was ready to start on the state’s designated essential workers, which includes teachers and grocery store employees. Then, the state shifted prioritization to people 70 and older and made it clear, Smith said, if the county did not do the same, “Our supply would be at risk.”
Clinics had to be canceled, she said.
“We know that caused a lot of frustration,” she explained. “We hear you. We are frustrated too.”
Harrington emphasized the vaccines are designed to reduce death and suffering.
“And where is death and suffering?” he asked. “Predominantly in the older age group.”
Smith also talked about not having sufficient technology to send invitations and schedule appointments for first and second doses.
The state will begin training Thursday on new software that should help, she said.
“The system we have now is broken. … I want everyone to get vaccinated, but we are struggling,” Smith said. “We are doing our best and ask for grace and patience.”
Still, the county is quickly getting every vaccine it receives into an arm.
Several members of the Routt County Board of Commissioners acknowledged more organization may be needed, but Routt County and Colorado are vaccinating people relatively efficiently in the face of inconsistent and limited supplies.
The county received about 500 doses over the past week, according to Harrington with 100 going to UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, 100 to Northwest Colorado Health, 100 to Routt County Public Health and 100 to Lyon’s Corner Drug & Soda Fountain.
Those numbers don’t include the hundreds of people who received their second dose of the vaccine this past week. Those vaccines were reserved and earmarked by federal and state agencies.
Northwest Colorado Health and Lyon’s Drug received their first direct shipments of vaccines last week, bringing two more providers on board.
Lyon’s Drug received a batch of 116 doses Friday and held its first clinic Sunday.
Matt Johnson, pharmacist and owner of Lyon’s Drug, said he filled out the paperwork in November to become a vaccine provider before receiving approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
“I ask for 2,000 doses every time I order,” Johnson said. “I have six immunizers ready to go.”
Johnson said he has the ability to deliver 2,000 doses per week.
“I can do a 600-shot clinic in three hours,” he said.
He’s already got partnerships lined up with other locations to scale up delivery far beyond his store, including locations in Hayden and Clark.
“Our ground game is laid and in place,” Johnson said. “We just need the supply.”
And logistically it’s very different than the flu shot.
“As soon as you puncture that vile, you have six hours to find an arm,” he said.
Lyon’s represents the first private entity in town outside of the hospital to receive direct shipments of vaccines. More clinics are expected to get approval and come on board soon, according to Johnson and public health officials.
Walgreens did administer some vaccines to long-term care facilities, but that was through a specific contractual agreement with the federal government.
Johnson said he had to meet a number of requirements to receive approval and had some advantages in that he’s already an approved immunizer and he did not have to wait on corporate approval as an independent pharmacy. A large chain grocery store, for example, Johnson said, would likely have to gain approval for hundreds of stores before being able to hold a local clinic.
Johnson also has been in close contact with public health. Weeks ago, he volunteered his time and staff to help at Casey’s Pond.
On Sunday, about 40% of the 116 people immunized at Lyon’s came as direct referrals from public health’s list of people who have filled out the online interest form and are 75 or older.
The other 60% were immunized on a first-come, first-served basis after Lyon’s put out a targeted Facebook advertisement. Those people were required to show their Medicare card and verify their date of birth. Johnson said there were some people who tried to get in but did not meet the 75 or older requirement.
Johnson said he chose to stick with the 75 or older for this clinic as initially planned, though the state lowered it last week to 70 or older.
There were logistical lessons learned Sunday, Johnson said, but overall he’s pleased with how well things went.
“We only turned away about 10 people,” he said.
Johnson said as more providers come on board, he thinks the best system is for public health to maintain a master list of people who qualify and funnel those names to the providers. That list of who is next should be centralized, he said.
Johnson also has received the message from the state that if people who are not in the approved categories receive vaccines, the supply will be jeopardized.
“If I went rogue and vaccinated teachers, I would punish the entire county,” he said.
Johnson also is not keeping a waitlist to avoid accusations of favoritism. When he gets another supply, he will work with public health and offer a sign-up opportunity, again on a first-come, first-served basis.
While Smith noted it is county public health’s “first rodeo” in terms of acting as an immunization clinic built in a short time, Johnson has a long history of being part of large vaccine rollouts.
He has seen what works and what doesn’t and said he will ensure his patients get their second doses based on that experience.
In terms of the first clinic, Johnson said he’s pretty proud of his model.
“It went smoothly and is scalable as we get more shots to make a bigger impact in the community,” Johnson said.
Johnson also lauds public health, calling their efforts on the vaccine front phenomenal.
“Their only hindrance is supply,” he said.
The hospital will administer its 100 first doses Thursday and Friday through their randomized invitation system for anyone who has a My Health Connection account, said Eli Nykamp, director of operations at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.
People do not have to have a patient history with the hospital in order to sign up for an account and receive a vaccination, he said.
“As we get inventory, we send out invites,” Nykamp said.
The first part of the week at the hospital was dedicated to second doses.
There are currently no residency requirements from any of the entities distributing vaccines. That is more complicated with second-home owners, an issue that CDHPE is supposed to address this week along with the residency requirements, which are being handled differently in different counties.
Nykamp said he’s heard of Routt County residents driving to the Front Range to get a vaccine before they can get it here. Johnson said while preferable to get the vaccines to residents first, he doesn’t have the administrative capacity to enforce residency requirements.
“If second-home owners are spending the entire winter here or more than a month or two and could potentially end up in our hospital system, I think it would be appropriate for them to get a vaccination in our county,” said public health nurse Brooke Maxwell. “However, if they’re going to fly here from another state specifically to get a vaccine and then go back home, that would not be appropriate.”
Johnson also noted once supply is not a problem, many of the demand frustrations will become null and void.
Johnson, Smith and Nycamp all indicated they are inundated with interest about the vaccine. The voice mailboxes at public health are full, Smith said. Nykamp said there is a full-time hospital employee dedicated to vaccine inquiries.
And they all say they are asking for as many vaccines as they can get and administering them as quickly as they can once received — within the state’s current restrictions.
“Good things have been achieved,” Harrington said. “And we will keep on building on that.”
For those who want to know when it will be their turn to get a vaccine, Smith urged people to pay close attention to the county’s website for updates, sign up for the community newsletter and fill out the vaccine interest form.
For eligibility at the hospital, visit uchealth.org/myhealthconnection to set up an account.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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