The COVID-19 vaccine is finally here! This is great news and builds hope that we will at some point get back to our lives.
Most importantly, the vaccine will save lives and reduce transmission of the virus once the vaccine is widely distributed. However, as many of you are aware, getting information about who is eligible to receive vaccine and how to make an appointment is not so easily found.
We at San Juan Basin Public Health understand the frustration people are experiencing to set appointments to be vaccinated as well as the confusing information about vaccine distribution. We are frustrated as well. In the absence of a clear national strategy, there are many partners working hard to provide vaccinations to those who want them. We are committed to ensuring that everyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccination will get one according to the state’s phased priority schedule.
Currently, La Plata County providers are almost done vaccinating health care workers and first responders in phase 1A and 1B.1, have completed the first of two doses for all long-term care facilities in the county and are making appointments for members of the general public over the age of 70.
For our community to get through the challenging rollout of vaccine distribution we need your help, understanding and patience. This will be much more complex than the vaccine campaigns for polio or smallpox in the 1950s and ’60s for several reasons:
First, and most importantly, the supply of vaccine is very limited. This is a national problem with counties across the nation facing severe supply limitations. Currently, the entire state of Colorado only receives between 70,000 and 100,000 doses per week from the federal government. Locally, about 10% of La Plata County residents have been vaccinated. At this current pace of vaccine allotment, it would take about nine months to get 70% of the state’s population vaccinated, but there is good reason to believe the pace will increase as vaccines from new manufacturers are approved and enter production. Second, the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require special handling. The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit, requiring special ultracold freezers – something most health care providers don’t have. Each must be thawed just before use, but not too soon before use. And once thawed and punctured, each dose must be used within hours. Further, both vaccines require a second dose be provided by the same provider as the first. While a two-dose vaccine is not uncommon, it adds another layer of complexity to the logistics. Lastly, the state and federal governments have changed their guidance and prioritization for COVID-19 vaccine rollout. For example, the change to the statewide prioritization to include vaccine for older adults and pre-K-12 staff members in earlier phases in the distribution – an increase of more than 10,000 people in La Plata County – required that our providers rapidly change course. While we understand the reasoning behind this move and have made this adjustment, it required the state to enroll dozens more local vaccination providers and get them doses, which is another factor that slows our progress getting vaccine to the next people on the priority list. People should expect additional changes in prioritization and distribution before the vaccine rollout is complete. Despite these challenges, SJBPH is thankful for the numerous community members who are stepping up to help with this herculean task, including an engaged and committed group of medical and nonmedical volunteers who are collaboratively planning Points of Dispensing – PODs – in La Plata County. In the meantime, we can’t thank enough our medical providers, retail pharmacies and other vaccine providers for opening appointments to our 70-and-older population, and soon to those 65 and older. These efforts demonstrate our community’s ability to pull together to control the spread of the virus through the powerful tool of vaccinations, despite the lack of a clear national strategy for vaccine distribution.
SJBPH is committed to sharing information as it becomes available. We encourage people to share their contact information with SJBPH via a notification sign-up (see link below) to receive a weekly email about vaccine availability including what categories of people are eligible to be vaccinated and the locations where vaccinations are being provided. We know some people are trying to make vaccination appointments without success, and we want to remind everyone there are more people eligible and trying to sign up than there are appointments available. We understand that this is a frustrating system and vaccine providers are working on ways to improve the appointment process.
We are thrilled that so many residents are interested in getting the COVID-19 vaccine. We take this to heart and want to assure you that the SJBPH team and partners are working tirelessly to ensure everyone who wants the vaccine will get it. Please bear with all of us, public health, vaccine providers and volunteers, as we navigate this complex undertaking.
For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, including the state’s phased priority schedule and how to receive notifications, visit https://sjbpublichealth.org/covid-19-vaccine/.
Claire Ninde is director of communications at San Juan Basin Public Health.