Updated Jan. 2 @ 12:09 p.m.
Coloradans 70 years and older were just moved to a higher priority for vaccinations by Gov. Jared Polis, but when and where their coronavirus vaccines will be available depends on the county and its hospitals and doctor’s offices.
For the last two weeks, hospitals in the state have been working around the clock to vaccinate all frontline health care workers who work closely with COVID-19 patients. In many areas of the state, like El Paso County, officials are still working on those covered in the first phase and now need to organize and start on the next group of recipients.
“It will take a concerted community effort to accomplish this critical work; providers, medical offices, and pharmacies throughout the county are working hard to mobilize the resources needed to be able to provide vaccines to eligible individuals,” said Michelle Hewitt, public health information officer for the county.
Coronavirus Vaccine Latest Developments
Local health officials were surprised by Polis' announcement to expand the vaccine's early pool of eligibility. He indicated during a Dec. 30 news conference that eligible Coloradans should contact their local health department and their doctors, which resulted in a flood of phone calls to offices that don’t yet have answers.
People want answers, but they’re also just excited to get the vaccine as soon as they can.
“My sister who is 76 and lives down the road texted me and said 'woohoo' we can now get our shots,” said Catherine Phillips, 72 from Louisville. “I lived through an era where when we had measles in our house we had a quarantine sign on the door.”
First Phase, First
The majority of Phase 1A health care workers in the state are expected to be vaccinated by Jan. 15, according to an email statement from the Colorado Joint Information Center. As that date nears, the state will be able “to provide more information for Coloradans on next steps.”
The state has established a hotline, COHELP, at 303-389-1687 or 877-462-2911. Coloradans seeking information can call Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. or go online to the Vaccine for Coloradans website.
In an example of a regional difference, however, Eagle County will have appointments available as soon as Mon. Jan. 4 for seniors to get vaccinated. The county stressed that those who get shots “will be asked to sign an attestation confirming they are a resident of Eagle County and are available for both doses.”
Garfield County will also start taking appointments for residents age 70 or older on Jan. 4 but stressed that it's all based a vaccine availability. A statement from Garfield County Public Health said appointments will be taken at Grand River Health (call 970-625-1100) or Valley View Hospital (970-384-7632). If no vaccine is available, names would be added to a waitlist.
On the Front Range, UCHealth launched a small pilot program to vaccinate a limited number of their patients over 75 to help inform how the hospital system will expand to more patients. But, due to limited supplies of the vaccine, it is not being offered broadly yet — no walk-in patients will be accommodated.
Overall, UCHealth said it will contact patients through online accounts if they are eligible for a vaccine.
Limited Supply, Scarce Information
It’s not clear yet when other counties and hospitals will be able to vaccinate seniors and others in the expanded pool. Many are waiting on vaccine supplies to begin vaccinating.
In a statement, Pueblo County indicated that vaccinations will be available in the coming weeks and that, like El Paso, the county has not finished its first phase of vaccinations yet.
San Juan Basin Public Health, in Southwestern Colorado, noted vaccinations for seniors will start only after the first round of vaccinations is completed — and based on vaccine availability.
“We fully understand that many individuals, businesses, and organizations are eager to receive the vaccine and want more information about distribution plans beyond 1A,” said a statement from Liane Jollon, the agency’s executive director. “SJBPH is committed to providing timely and important updates regarding the distribution of vaccines, and we will share information on Phase 1B through all available channels as soon as it becomes available.”
In the meantime, officials still urge residents to continue to socially distance, wear a mask and get tested if they experience COVID-19 symptoms.
For 91-year-old Joan Grady, the process of waiting for information on a vaccine has been frustrating.
“It’s stupid. Obviously the government has not done a good job on distribution,” she said.
She was living at a facility for seniors, but she decided to stay with family during the pandemic. Now, she’s not sure when she’ll get the vaccine, but she wants one as soon as she can get it.
“If I get the double dose, it’ll free me of the thought that I’m going to catch COVID and die,” she said. “I mean I’m 91, I realize I’m not going to be here forever, but I’d like to take advantage of what I have.”