COVID-19 vaccines now available for educators, people 65 and older
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The goal of vaccinating 70% of Routt County’s population of people age 70 and older by the end of February has already been met, according to local public health officials.
Between Wednesday’s regular Board of Health meeting and a subsequent Steamboat Conversations virtual town hall, local experts spent several hours discussing the current state of vaccinations in the county.
The numbers of vaccines coming in and people being vaccinated continues to steadily increase, according to Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith, and eligibility has now opened up to educators and people 65 and older.
A total of 3,533 people in Routt County have been given at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Smith said.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis set the goal to vaccinate 70% of the 70-and-older demographic across the state by the end of February.
“It was a very aggressive goal, and we’ve met that goal here in Routt County,” Smith said.
Smith noted the partnership with UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center has allowed the county to increase the number of people who can be vaccinated in one week.
Soniya Fidler, president of the local hospital, said the hospital has administered 2,670 total COVID-19 vaccination doses. Of those, 907 were given to people age 70 or older, and 224 people in that category have now received their second dose. A total of 954 people have now received their second dose from the hospital.
After the 65-and-older group and educators are vaccinated, Smith said the next group to be vaccinated includes front-line essential workers and people ages 16 to 64 with two or more high-risk conditions. Smith said she anticipates starting that next eligible phase around March 5.
Thus far, Northwest Colorado Health has given 363 COVID-19 vaccines of the county’s total. The nonprofit continues to order 100 doses per week, according to Suzi Mariano, senior director of marketing and development.
Northwest Colorado Health is taking appointments for people in the eligible groups — including 65 and older — on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, dependent on supply. Mariano requests educators not sign up individually on their list but instead go through their employers. The organization is also assisting with the vaccination of homebound patients.
South Routt Medical Center in Oak Creek has administered 246 of the total COVID-19 vaccinations to date and is assisting this week with the vaccination of South Routt School District teachers and staff.
Answering a question about second-home owners being included in the county’s allocation, Smith acknowledged the fluctuation in population in many mountain towns and said the county places orders based on needs — though supplies received don’t necessarily match the requests.
“If someone is living here for the winter, we want to vaccinate them,” Smith said. “They are part of the population.”
There are two things to consider when entering the category of fully vaccinated, said Routt County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington. First, there’s personal protection. The two vaccines currently available in the U.S. — Pfizer and Moderna — have shown to be highly effective in preventing severe illness and death.
For vaccinated people — once they reach about two weeks after the second shot — that likely means a different calculation of personal risk. For vulnerable people who have not been going to the grocery store or getting their hair cut, they may now feel comfortable doing that, Harrington said.
The second consideration surrounding vaccines, Harrington said, involves stopping community transmission. While Harrington said he is hopeful more data will come out soon regarding the transmissability of the virus in vaccinated people, at this time, that remains one of the biggest unknowns.
Without more data, it must be assumed a vaccinated person could still carry the virus, not exhibit any symptoms and spread the virus to others.
But the benefit to the community of getting vaccinated not only advances the goal of herd immunity, Harrington said, but also gives the virus less opportunity to mutate.
Who is getting vaccinated?
This week, the eligibility guidelines set by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment opened up vaccinations for people over 65 years old as well as educators.
All public health officials and panelists repeatedly stated they must follow the state’s guidelines for eligibility or risk the county’s allocation of vaccine.
The state did do calculations to provide an allocation of vaccines based on how many educators are in a county, Routt County public health nurse Brooke Maxwell said. By transferring all available doses between different entities, Maxwell said they are able to “capture all schools” and have more than 400 doses ready this week for teachers and staff at all of the county’s schools.
Next week, child care and early education workers will begin receiving vaccines, Smith said.
For educators, Smith noted it works best for people to go through their employers, rather than individually contacting the vaccine providers.
Hundreds of second doses are also being administered this week.
On whether any doses go to waste, Fidler acknowledged the challenge of having to use all doses once a vial is opened. There are times people don’t show up, and they are left with additional doses, she said. In that case, the hospital picks random names of eligible people who were already scheduled for a later vaccine appointment and reaches out to see if they can come in early.
Fidler added the hospital’s skilled pharmacy department is able to get one extra dose per vial — six doses from a Pfizer vial and 11 from a Moderna vial.
As the number of people eligible for the vaccine increases, Smith said people should be able to start getting vaccinated by their own health care providers. Other pharmacies — like Walmart and Kroger stores — may also be joining the distribution effort, she said, but whether and when those local pharmacies will begin vaccinating is still unknown at this time.
Smith also described plans for large-scale clinics.
Right now, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is vaccinating only people who are health care workers, first responders, educators, and people 65 and older.
State hotline: 1-877-CO VAX CO (1-877-268-2926)
Routt County Public Health Department:
Visit the website and sign up for the community newsletter and fill out the vaccine interest form online at covid19routtcounty.com/vaccine-information or call 970-870-5341.
UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center:
Anyone who has a My Health Connection account is automatically in UCHealth’s database and will be contacted. Patients without an account are encouraged to create one if possible. Nonpatients also are able to register for the vaccine list by setting up a My Health Connection account at uchealth.org/myhealthconnection.
UCHealth COVID-19 vaccination hotline: 720-462-2255
UCHealth Spanish hotline: 844-945-2508
South Routt Medical Center:
Fill out an interest form online at southrouttmedical.com/landing/coronavirus or call 970-736-8118 .
Northwest Colorado Health:
Fill out an interest form at northwestcoloradohealth.org/what_we_do/covid-19-vaccine-testing.html or call 970-871-7620.
So far, vaccine acceptance levels have been high, reported Smith, Harrington and Fidler. However, as eligibility numbers increase, Harrington stressed the importance of getting out fact-based information, increasing public knowledge, answering questions and “helping people feel more comfortable and less fearful about what is a new thing.”
How long does immunity last?
There simply has not been enough passage of time to collect the data required to answer this question, Harrington said.
Based on what is known at this time, officials are comfortable telling people who either have had COVID-19 or been vaccinated with both shots they don’t have to worry about quarantine orders for 90 days after either the second shot or the infection.
“Now we are seeing studies showing an antibody response five to six months out,” Harrington said.
But he also noted the post-vaccination research trials only began less than five months ago.
Other studies document an even longer response, he said, and the vaccine appears to reduce the risk of severe disease for as long as a year.
There have been two different variants identified in Colorado — B.1.1.7, or the U.K. variant, and L452R, which is increasingly common in California and was recently identified in Routt County.
Across the state, 42 cases of the U.K. variant have been identified and 17 of the California variant.
According to Routt County epidemiologist and data manager Nicole Harty, there are two different categories of variants — variants “under investigation” and variants “of concern.”
The L452R variant is under investigation.
“At this point, it isn’t cause for concern or cause to do anything different other than we will continue to monitor it,” Harty said.
The U.K. variant is labeled “of concern” because of its apparent increased transmissibility. Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, said this week the U.K. variant could become dominant in the U.S. by the end of March.
In terms of looking for variants, all tests administered by UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center are being screened, Harrington said. The state also screens about 3% to 5% of all tests.
Regarding effectiveness of the vaccine against these variants, Harrington said it is too early for conclusive statements, but the available vaccines do appear to be effective against the U.K. variant.
The South African variant — not yet identified in Colorado — is appearing to be somewhat resistant to some vaccines, Harrington said.
“At this point, I don’t think we should overreact regarding the variants,” he said.
And they only underscore the importance of getting vaccinated and continuing mitigation efforts, he said.
Harrington said COVID-19 vaccine reactions being seen locally are what is to be expected based on the trials. Body aches, headache, mild fever and pain around the injection site are “pretty typical,” he said.
“The majority of people don’t feel much after the first vaccine, but there does seem to be a little more immune response and symptoms after the second dose,” he said.
He said he is unaware of any life threatening reactions locally.
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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Twenty months after the South Routt School District announced it would close because of a burgeoning coronavirus, COVID-19 is more prevalent in South Routt than ever before.