COVID-19 vaccines arrive in South Routt
OAK CREEK — Dressed as an elf, Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith spent a cold but sunny Christmas Eve morning administering COVID-19 vaccines to health care workers and frontline responders at South Routt Medical Center.
Ken Rogers, district manager of the medical center in Oak Creek, received the first vaccine of the day — and the first Moderna vaccine administered in Routt County. The vaccines are part of the initial batch of 100 Moderna doses received this week by the public health department.
Rogers said he didn’t even feel the shot, but emotionally, he said it felt wonderful.
“It is great this is out there, and we want to show the vaccine is safe for everyone,” Rogers said.
The Thursday clinic was the first place vaccines have been administered in Routt County outside of UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.
While the Pfizer vaccines can be kept on recharged dry ice for five days outside of the ultra-low freezer, the Moderna vaccines are logistically much easier and can be stored in a regular freezer. They also can be drawn directly from the vial and don’t need to go through the same reconstitution process.
Frontline health care workers who don’t work at the hospital began receiving vaccines Wednesday, along with some long-term care staff, dental workers and EMS personnel.
Steamboat hospital staff began vaccines Dec. 17.
All of the Steamboat Emergency Center staff who wanted a vaccine received one Wednesday, said physician/owner Dr. Dallas Bailes.
Bailes noted the center has unintentionally become a popular COVID-19 testing center, often bringing in people who can’t get tested elsewhere or want it done quickly.
“At one point, we were turning away 50 people a day,” he said.
Just in the past few days — between when the vaccine was available to hospital health care workers but not yet to the emergency center staff — there were at least 12 positive COVID-19 cases that came through the doors.
“We are getting positives every day,” Bailes said.
On getting the vaccine himself, Bailes said he was comfortable with the science.
“The benefits outweigh any risk in continuing to do what I do without having any protection,” Bailes said.
Rogers also talked about the daily contact his team has with potentially positive COVID-19 patients, especially given they offer testing every day and have tested more than 1,300 people.
South Routt dentist Dr. Reanna Messer said she was excited to receive her shot from Smith on Thursday.
“It’s a good step toward normality,” Messer said.
Messer said she did have some hesitancy at first about the vaccine, but once she did her own reading and research on the clinical trials, she felt comfortable. Messer also noted dentists and dental hygienists are some of the highest risk people because every day, they are generating aerosols from the mouths of their patients.
For the more rural South Routt population where there have been fewer cases than Steamboat, Rogers noted in recent weeks the pandemic has hit closer to home, with most everyone now knowing someone who contracted the virus.
He also emphasized the importance of health care professionals displaying confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
“We practice evidence and science-based medicine,” Rogers said.
Rogers said South Routt Medical Center receives numerous calls from people wanting to get vaccinated, and they are keeping a list — though that is in no way a list of who will get the vaccine first, as the details for administering the next phase of the vaccine are still being worked out.
With some leftover vaccines from the morning’s allotment, Smith said she’d be calling Casey’s Pond to see about covering more of their staff, who began receiving vaccines Wednesday.
Smith said Walgreens is scheduled to begin the first vaccinations of Casey’s Pond residents Monday. At this time, the local Walgreens, which is contracted with the federal government, is starting only with the Doak Walker House.
It is not known when the rest of the residents — the assisted living and residential living groups — will begin getting vaccines, which also includes the 13 residents at The Haven in Hayden.
On Monday, Smith said she will work with UCHealth staff to determine where to best utilize the hospital’s allocation of 200 Moderna vaccines and determine whether some of those will be transferred to the public health department.
“There are a lot more people in category 1B,” Smith noted, which covers health care workers with less direct contact and first responders.
The county will soon be offering vaccines to staff and inmates at correctional facilities, and law enforcement who did not receive a vaccine this week.
Smith said her team won’t be waiting on Walgreens to get more of Casey’s Pond and The Haven residents vaccinated, provided they have the supply of vaccines ready to go.
If all the vaccines allotted to Walgreens for long-term care aren’t needed once they do come available, Smith said she is sure they will be needed elsewhere, and the contract between Walgreens and the government is not a barrier for public health’s goal to get the 1A group covered as quickly as possible.
As the shipments of the vaccine become more regular, Smith said the process should move smoothly as they begin Phase 2 of administration, which includes, among others, people over 65 and with high-risk health conditions, grocery store workers and school staff and people living in high-density settings.
People will also soon be able to go to their private providers for the vaccine, she said, including the South Routt Medical Center.
On why Smith elected to stick a needle into some arms herself Thursday and Friday, “I love it,” she said. “It’s fun to be a nurse again and not sit on Zoom calls all day.”
Asked if she’d be giving out any shots on Christmas Day, “No,” Smith said. “I need to knit.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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