Vaccine eligibility expands Friday; over 5,000 more Routt residents will become eligible

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Vaccine eligibility will expand Friday, making Coloradans 50 and older, people with one high-risk health condition and many essential workers eligible to get their shot.

Across Colorado the 1B.4 vaccination group represents about 2.5 million people, and in Routt County, Brooke Maxwell, county public health nurse, estimates this group will include more than 5,000 residents.

With more people becoming eligible for the vaccine, the county has decided to close the vaccine interest form they had used to collect names and contact information about people looking to get the vaccine. Essentially, the list of over 7,000 people became far too cumbersome for Maxwell to manage.

With so many different providers offering the vaccine now, many people on the county’s list have already received the vaccine elsewhere.

“The lists have become so inflated that we legitimately have to call 70 people to find 10 that haven’t had a shot yet,” said Matt Johnson, owner and pharmacist at Lyon’s Corner Drug and Soda Fountain.

For a clinic last weekend, Johnson said he had people calling him Saturday to cancel Sunday vaccine appointments that had just been made Thursday, because they were able to get the vaccine elsewhere.

“That is the problem; the lists just don’t hold up to scrutiny,” Johnson said, adding that even if everyone were to call to remove their names from a list when they got the vaccine, that, too, would take quite a bit of time to manage.

The county is still using the list; they are just not adding to it. Maxwell reached out to people who had signed up on the list to see if they had already gotten the vaccine Tuesday in the hopes the county could further parse down the list and make it more useful.

A variety of essential workers will become eligible to get the vaccine Friday, and Routt County Public Health has been partnering with the Steamboat Springs Chamber to collect information from businesses whose employees are either eligible already or will become eligible Friday, with a large number of these being restaurant workers.

Johnson said on Friday there is a meeting with all the vaccine providers to “divide and conquer” the names public health has been collecting with the hope of getting a large percentage of those workers vaccinated within 10 days.

Guidelines for the state’s Phase 1B.4 for vaccinations.

Many of these employees could be seasonal and may not be around long enough to get two doses of a vaccine. To make vaccinating simpler for some of these people, the county would like to get more of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine, but production issues have led to uncertainty about its availability.

While the flow of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine into Colorado is up in the air, there is a steady supply of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and public health officials recommend people getting whatever vaccine is available to them when they are eligible.

That said, if someone knows they will not be around for their scheduled second dose of the vaccine — potentially being out of town during the week of spring break — they should hold off on getting a first dose until they confirm they can be available for both shots.

Johnson said he still has not had word of whether Lyon’s will be getting vaccines this week, as things are seemingly delayed because of the massive snow storm that recently hit Denver. If he does not get any vaccine, Johnson said public health has already agreed to give him enough vaccine for him to cover planned second doses this weekend.

Public health has also given some of the doses they received to primary care clinics in town that have been shutout on getting vaccine so far. Without this cooperation among providers and public health, Johnson said he would have already missed two second-dose clinics.

“That is twice my butt has been bailed out through partnerships,” Johnson said, emphasizing that these kinds of relationships between public health and providers in Routt County are not as feasible in larger municipalities like Denver.

Johnson is encouraging people to call Lyon’s on Wednesday afternoon, Thursday and Friday to either schedule an appointment if the drug store gets vaccines or help people understand what other options are out there if they do not.

“At least if we are saying, ‘hey, it is not us unfortunately for this week,’ we can at least talk through it and help basically be a pathfinder for them to find a shot,” Johnson said.

The problem with using some kind of online form, Johnson said, is that people are not always honest, and a short conversation will allow him to better screen people. If not properly screened, Johnson said Lyon’s is put in a difficult situation of deciding whether to give the vaccine as planned to someone who isn’t eligible or turning them away and risk not being able to find an eligible arm for the shot.

Lindsey Reznicek, spokesperson for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, said in an email that as it gets closer to the end of vaccine phases, people do become harder to find and not all of the hospital’s clinics will be booked solid. That is expected to change with the large expansion of eligibility Friday.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Reznicek said the hospital had not received any more vaccines this week, but it has first- and second-dose clinics scheduled both this week and next.

Another issue, Maxwell said, is the county is having a lot of people reach out who are not yet eligible for the vaccine but think they are under some of the manufacturing-, specialized transportation- and human services-related jobs that have been identified as essential workers.

“Schedule your appointment with any one of the providers you can get an appointment with when you are eligible, make sure you are eligible and make sure that you are around for dose two,” said Robin Schepper, spokesperson for the county.

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