COVID-19 vaccines reach further into the population
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — About 1,000 people have been vaccinated for COVID-19 thus far in Routt County, making up about 4% of the population.
Combined with the number of people who have contracted the virus, Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan estimated approximately 8% of the county’s residents now have some degree of immunity.
“Does that begin to be a significant number in terms of controlling disease spread?” Corrington asked at Wednesday’s Board of Health meeting.
“Yes, at some point that will make an impact,” answered Routt County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington.
Achieving herd immunity — which for COVID-19 is now estimated at somewhere between 75% to 90% of the population having immunity — is “a gradual process,” Harrington said.
“Between now and then, we have all these steps along the way where it’s making an impact,” he said. “And while it’s still spreading, it’s not spreading as bad.”
Harrington said he anticipated seeing a decline in infection in coming months, with rising immunity in the community a significant factor.
On Wednesday, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment updated the vaccination plan, significantly expanding who is included in the 1B group.
In addition to the health care workers with less direct contact and first responders, 1B now includes people over the age of 70, teachers, grocery store workers and other essential frontline workers.
With that group now much larger, public health officials urged patience for people eager to get vaccinated. For one, the state guidelines must be followed in terms of making the vaccines available to the next group, Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said.
There is also a limited supply, she said. At this time, vaccines are being shipped to public health at a rate of 200 doses per week.
“We appreciate the interest,” said Public Health Nurse Brooke Maxwell. “We do have a plan in place and will reach out to the different groups when it is your turn. If you feel you are in 1B and no one has reached out, email us, and we will tell you what category you are in.”
A pilot program began Tuesday at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center to vaccinate people who are 75 and older.
Hospital President Soniya Fidler said the program was designed to help them better understand what accommodations need to be made for the community’s older residents. Invitations were sent out to a randomized group of people 75 and older who have a My Health Connection account with the hospital, which can be accessed either online or through the app.
Fidler emphasized the entire community will be reached, but people who already had an account was a good place to start for the pilot program.
More than 50 people in the age group were vaccinated at the hospital Tuesday.
“We learned a lot,” Fidler said. “We got a lot of good feedback.”
Because the process was entirely randomized, Fidler said she didn’t know how many declined the invitation. But in general, she said it was clear there was strong interest in the vaccine.
There also were strong emotions during Tuesday’s clinic, she said.
As different segments of the population are reached, Fidler said she is seeing the same emotions of excitement, gratitude and relief. There were tears, smiles and vaccine selfies, which have been coined “vaxxies.”
Because of the limited supply of vaccines, Fidler said the hospital is not yet in a position to accommodate walk-ins and everyone in the 1B group.
She said she is hoping for more consistency in the vaccine shipments.
Thus far, the hospital has received two shipments of Moderna vaccines and one shipment of Pfizer vaccines. The second shipment of Pfizer vaccines is expected next week, Fidler said, and will be allocated as the second dose for the frontline health care workers who were the first to receive vaccines on Dec. 17. The Pfizer two-dose regimen is spaced three weeks apart, while the Moderna vaccines are spaced four weeks apart.
While demand outpaces supply, the vaccination effort thus far at the hospital and by the public health department is being deemed a success.
“We were able to achieve the goal of getting it out as soon as possible,” Fidler said. “This has been as successful as we could have imagined.”
Harrington noted that Colorado is beginning to be looked at nationally as a model for successful vaccine administration.
And with two different vaccines requiring two different storage mechanisms and two different time frames for dosing, on top of an uncertain supply chain, Fidler described the process as “extremely complicated.”
While there are just the two entities vaccinating people at this time, with the addition of about 100 vaccines administered by Walgreens at Casey’s Pond, Smith said the plan is to soon have more pharmacies and health care providers receiving and administering vaccines.
Also on Tuesday, the residents and staff at The Haven assisted living center in Hayden received vaccines.
“It was a real bonding experience for those of us who reside here,” said Haven resident Rosa Lawton. “We all went through this together, and now, we complete this final step.”
Lawton said she did have an upset stomach and sore arm as a result of the shot but didn’t have any trouble making the decision to get it.
All of the Haven’s 13 residents received the vaccine and about 85% of the staff.
Lawton said it has been hard to spend so much time confined to her room and not getting as much exercise as she’d like.
Lawton contracted the virus earlier in the pandemic but was asymptomatic the entire time.
“I was pretty lucky,” she said.
Harrington said people who previously contracted the virus are advised to get the vaccine, as data shows increased immunity with the shot.
“The arrival of the vaccine is tremendous news and provides hope as we embark on a new year,” Fidler said. “However, we ask everyone to continue wearing masks, washing hands well and frequently, avoid crowds and socializing with people outside your household, maintain appropriate physical distancing, and if you begin to show any of the signs of COVID-19, immediately isolate yourself to protect others. The individual actions we all take contribute to the health of our entire community.”
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.