Vaccines begin for people 70 and older: distribution limited by supply
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has set a goal to vaccinate 70% of adults age 70 and older by Feb. 28.
The state also clarified Tuesday that public health agencies should focus their efforts on prioritizing vaccination for any outstanding highest risk health care workers in phase 1A, as well as moderate risk health care workers and first responders in phase 1B. All other phase 1 providers, such as hospitals, health systems and pharmacies, were directed to focus on vaccinating persons 70 and older.
At this time in Routt County, there are still only two agencies — UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center and Routt County Public Health — receiving vaccines, and those shipments are inconsistent.
Routt County Director of Public Health Roberta Smith said at Wednesday’s Board of Health meeting she hopes more providers will soon be receiving vaccines and hosting clinics, but at this time, the vaccination effort is supply driven.
Every one of the 300 vaccines public health received directly is already in someone’s arm.
“We didn’t receive any allotment this week,” Smith said. “We hope to get more next week.”
Routt County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Harrington called the current situation “a little bit of an unsupplied mandate.”
“We are told to do it and want to do it but don’t have the vaccinations to get there,” he said.
However, he said he is “very confident, as we get into February, we will get through all of the first phase.”
As the state has expanded the people who qualify for the first phase, Harrington said public health has a list of about 75 occupations and an estimate of 2,600 people in the county over the age of 70. There are likely more than that, he said, with second homeowners and people who recently moved here.
“We have over 5,000 people who qualify, yet the state is only giving us a few hundred vaccines each week,” he said.
The hospital has begun vaccinating people in the 70-and-older age range by randomized invitation only and, on Thursday, will be administering the second dose Pfizer vaccines to the front-line health care workers who were the very first to receive an initial dose.
“As UCHealth receives vaccine allocation, the health system will continue to randomly contact patients via My Health Connection per the tiers established by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Currently, we are working to vaccinate Coloradans who are 70 years of age and older,” said UCHealth Communications Specialist Lindsey Reznicek.
She said all vaccinations are by appointment only. Those who don’t have a My Health Connection account, can visit uchealth.org/myhealthconnection to set one up. My Health Connection is available via desktop and mobile platforms. Patients can download the UCHealth app for access to My Health Connection.
“We are also exploring other ways to notify patients and community members who may not have internet access, and we ask for everyone’s continued patience during this process,” Reznicek said.
After vaccinating moderate risk health care workers, first responders and adults 70 and older, the focus will turn to essential workers, including teachers and child care providers. This phase will likely begin at the end of February, according to state health officials.
As of Wednesday morning, the hospital has administered 879 vaccines in Routt County, and the public health department has administered 515 vaccines. Every resident and staff member in the county’s two long-term care facilities have had the opportunity to receive a first dose.
That total, Harrington said, puts the county over 5% of the total population vaccinated, or approximately one in 20 residents.
And Routt County has shown the logistical capacity to get shots into arms, Harrington noted.
Partnerships have made that possible, noted Smith, with public health receiving 215 doses from the hospital to ensure first responders and long-term care residents and staff had fast access to the first few shipments.
Smith and Harrington acknowledged there is high interest in the vaccine from the community, and they urge patience. The logistical task of getting vaccinations to everyone who wants one is “one more mountain we have to climb in this pandemic,” Harrington said.
At this point, no other providers have vaccines nor do they have wait lists, Harrington said.
Smith said that should change soon, and public health is working on strategies for hosting clinics for larger and larger segments of the population. She noted challenges like weather when it comes to drive-thru clinics and finding secure locations where people can remain socially distanced and be held for the 15-minute observation period.
The urgency to get more of the population vaccinated comes as COVID-19 cases see a 35% uptick in Routt County after weeks of a downward trend, and, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University, Tuesday marks the deadliest day since the start of the pandemic with 3,775 deaths reported.
For those who want to know when it will be their turn to get a vaccine, Smith urged people to pay close attention to the county’s website for updates, sign up for the community newsletter and fill out the vaccine interest form.
The interest form allows the county to contact people with updated information, but it does not guarantee a shot, Smith said, and it is not a placeholder in a line.
Until then, Smith reiterated, “It’s all driven by supply.”
The state must also give approval before the county can move to the next phase.
“By signing up for My Health Connection and completing the county’s new online vaccination interest form, we will slowly and steadily work through the vaccination tiers of those in our community as vaccine allocations are received,” Reznicek said.
“The commitments to containment remain crucial as we work to deliver vaccinations in our communities,” she added. “We encourage everyone to keep practicing these efforts — wear a mask, wash your hands often, keep appropriate physical distance, stay home of you’re sick, get tested as appropriate and avoid personal gatherings.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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Since Christmas, about 6% of all Routt County residents have tested positive for COVID-19. About a quarter of all cases locally since the start of the pandemic have come since Dec. 26.