Rate of new COVID-19 vaccinations slowing as Routt County gets closer to 75% goal

Some people have taken great lengths to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

There are Routt County residents who got their shot in Moffat County, chasing the open appointments just across the county line in Craig. People from the Front Range came all the way to Steamboat Springs to get a shot at the first county-run clinic in March.

It has always been a supply-and-demand issue, with the demand overwhelming the supply, making the coveted vaccination appointments hard to come by.

This is not really the case anymore.

“We all have shots in our fridge now; what we need is for people to show up to get those shots,” said Matt Johnson, owner and pharmacist at Lyon’s Corner Drug and Soda Fountain.

The number of residents who have received the first dose of the vaccine has been inching up at a slower pace now than it did in March and April, when each week saw the county’s total grow by more than a 1,000 people each week.

“I’m not surprised that we are seeing the overall numbers down,” said Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County’s chief medical officer. “But we are still very busy giving out vaccinations.”

Before removing the local public health order last week, public health officials had been optimistic the county would reach the goal of 75% vaccination among those 16 and older by June 2. On Wednesday that number had reached 71%, according to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard.

If the county could vaccinate 400 or more people each week, Harrington said he would be all right with that. The county needs about 800 more people to start the vaccine series to reach that 75% goal.

Harrington said the current pool of people eligible to get vaccinated is getting smaller as more of people get a shot. There are also people in that group who will never get the vaccine, so the number of eligible people willing to get a shot is even smaller.

Trust, motivation and access are the three barriers to getting a vaccine, Harrington said, and it’s becoming more important to address these issues as that pool gets smaller.

“In order for someone to choose to get the vaccine, they have to trust it,” Harrington said.

There are a myriad of reasons someone might say they don’t want to get the vaccine, though many of them don’t hold up to scrutiny. The vaccine won’t affect fertility, it is impossible for the vaccine itself to give someone COVID-19 and just having had COVID-19 doesn’t mean getting the vaccine isn’t a good idea, all according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

There are also many reasons why the vaccines were developed quickly, as both Pfizer and Moderna have been working on mRNA vaccine technology for years before the pandemic. The development had an immense amount of resources, and some steps to make the vaccine were done on an overlapping schedule to gather data quicker, according to Johns Hopkins.

“Then there are people out there that have pretty good trust of the vaccine, they are willing to get it; they just are not motivated to get it,” Harrington said.

Younger people are more likely to fall into that second group, maybe feeling it isn’t a big deal for them to get the shot if 7 of 10 of everyone else has it. It is a big deal, Harrington said, and everyone who can should get the vaccine.

“Those counties that have the highest vaccination rates have the lowest case rates,” Harrington said, noting that Routt County has one of the higher vaccination rates in the state. “We are seeing the benefits of it.”

Socioeconomic status also correlates with vaccine distribution, and despite the increased supply, there are still access issues for some people, especially those who do not speak English as their first language, Harrington said.

A way to improve access in Harrington’s mind is to make it easier to get the vaccine for primary care clinics — typically where someone would get a vaccination before the pandemic. Manufacturers may eventually produce the vaccines in smaller vials making it easier to store and administer in smaller quantities.

“The logistics of doing this vaccine are not yet ideal,” Harrington said.

At Lyon’s, Johnson said he has stopped holding his Sunday morning clinics, which he had done each week since December. Now he is taking walk-ins and doing vaccinations Monday through Saturday. Johnson said he has all three shots available — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

Pfizer shots are even being sent to providers from the state via courier to ensure they reach their destination, Johnson said

“Unless people just don’t know about us, it is very hard to make an excuse where we couldn’t get you a shot,” Johnson said.

State health officials are having providers like Johnson prioritize getting people a shot rather than maximizing the vaccine in each vial, meaning he would give one person a shot, even if it means throwing out the rest of the vial.

“That is the message from the state — get the arms when you can, don’t worry about the waste,” Johnson said. “That is kind of heartbreaking. That is a completely different song than two months ago, but that is what they are telling us they are OK with.”

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