Routt County offers 1st mass vaccination clinic

People line up outside the Steamboat Christian Center on Friday morning waiting for a chance to get the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at Routt County Public Health's first mass vaccination clinic. Vaccinations were opened up to those 60 and older Friday. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Maryliz Gail sighed in relief for the first time in nearly a year Friday morning.

Gail, who is 63 years old and lives in Steamboat Springs, has hardly seen anyone in the past year, as she knew getting COVID-19 could cause serious problems for her because of her age.

While Gail knew she would be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine within the next few weeks, she was “ecstatic” when a friend called her and said the county had just received doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and would be holding a mass vaccination clinic.

“I was thrilled that this opportunity materialized so quickly,” Gail said. “I really, really focused on self-isolating to steer clear, so I’m thrilled that I can get this now and that we, as a society, can move forward.”

While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has an efficacy rate of around 66%, lower than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said it is 85% effective at reducing hospitalization rates and 100% effective in preventing death, which Smith said are the most important components to ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Those are the things we’re looking for right now to end our pandemic,” Smith said.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose, which Smith said is also beneficial, as the other two COVID-19 vaccines require two doses, spread weeks apart.

“It helps us logistically from a public health standpoint,” Smith said. “Sometimes people don’t come back for the second dose or they’re traveling and the benefit of having a one-dose vaccine is you get it and then you’re protected two weeks later.”

Colorado is now offering the vaccine to anyone with two or more high-risk health conditions and some essential workers in grocery stores and food production, but the clinics hosted by the county will focus only on vaccinating people 60 and older, making it easier to verify that person is actually eligible to get the vaccine.

Others at Friday’s clinic felt the opportunity to take the vaccine now felt like the perfect timing, as other COVID-19 variants have been discovered around the world.

“I’m pleased that it came as quickly as it did,” said Tom Lathers, who lives in Grand County but came to Steamboat to receive his vaccine. “I hope we have other vaccines and herd immunity before we have more variants enter the valley.”

Some vaccine recipients said they felt guilty for receiving the vaccine before someone else.

“There are so many people who haven’t gotten it yet, so it’s hard for me not to feel a little guilty to know we are done,” said Amy Crawford, a Steamboat resident. “There are people that aren’t as internet savvy that can’t just get on an online list and be proactive, especially a lot of older people.”

Smith said the county has heard from people who may be skeptical of needles or vaccines in general, and the one-shot vaccine offered Friday may help reluctant people feel more comfortable taking the vaccine.

“That’s definitely a benefit to this vaccine,” Smith said.

Betsy McGrew, a Steamboat resident, said she was originally skeptical of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to its lower efficacy, but she did research on the company’s testing procedures and was glad to receive the same vaccine as her son, who is on the autism spectrum and was nervous about receiving the vaccine.

“When they talk about the percentage effectiveness in terms of the other two shots being more effective, I was nervous at first,” McGrew said. “But I plan on having my son take this shot, so I thought it would be good for me too take the same shot as he is.”

Friday’s clinic is one of three offered this weekend in Routt County to those 60 and older. The Saturday clinic at Steamboat Christian Center is full, but Sunday’s clinic at the Routt County Fairgrounds in Hayden still has appointments available.

Eligible residents interested in receiving the vaccine can sign up using the state’s online system.

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