Surprise and confusion among health departments, seniors over vaccine rollout to Coloradans age 70+

Health departments adjusting on the fly, seniors asking where to go and when
colorado vaccine distribution
Posted at 4:52 PM, Dec 31, 2020
and last updated 2021-01-05 14:52:13-05

DENVER – While Wednesday’s announcement by Gov. Jared Polis that Coloradans age 70 and up will be included in Phase 1B of the vaccine distribution plan was news welcomed by many seniors, it also came as a surprise for local public health departments not yet ready to distribute to the broader group.

Several public health departments across the state said they were not notified of the changes to the vaccine groups before the announcement Wednesday morning and were left to answer phone calls and emails from people in their counties wondering when and where they could be vaccinated but were unable to answer those questions.

Surprise and confusion among health departments, seniors over vaccine rollout to Coloradans age 70+

“I would say I was getting emails about 5 minutes after the announcement and we have gotten hundreds of emails and phone calls since then,” said Chana Goussetis, a spokesperson for Boulder County Public Health.

MORE: When and where can you get the COVID-19 vaccine? Here are answers to your vaccine-related questions

Goussetis said that the department was trying to respond to every email and phone call one-by-one but that a plan to include the people in the updated Phase 1B was in the works and would hopefully be released next week.

“But we just don’t have that figured out quite yet and we also need to ask folks to be patient. We don’t have the vaccine supply for everyone right now, so it will take some time,” she said.

The short supply of vaccine not already accounted for in many Colorado counties is among the reasons why local public health departments like Boulder County and Jefferson County say they are not yet ready to begin distribution to the broader group despite Polis’ hopes stated Wednesday that the broader group could all potentially get their first vaccines in the next 4-5 weeks.

Jefferson County Public Health said Wednesday evening that it is continuing to prioritize vaccination of health care workers and first responders, and that limited quantities of the vaccine meant they were not yet moving into the expanded Phase 1B and were still in the planning phase.

“As those plans further develop, we will communicate them to our Jefferson County community and to key groups who are next-in-line to be vaccinated, including those 70 and older,” JCPH said in a statement.

Summit County announced prior to the governor’s announcement Wednesday that it would be vaccinating people aged 75+ but changed that grouping to 70+ to be in line with the state after the announcement. But they have a surplus of vaccine doses and had planned ahead to vaccinate seniors on a quicker timeline.

“Summit County received several hundred more doses of Moderna vaccine than originally anticipated, and we are happy to be able to offer the opportunity for our residents in one of the highest risk categories to receive the vaccine to protect themselves this week,” said Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland.

MORE: Any Coloradan 70 and older can receive the COVID-19 vaccine now, depending on supply

Health officials there had more than 800 doses to start the day Wednesday but say they will need more shipments before they can vaccinate the roughly 3,000 people aged 70+ in the county who want to be inoculated.

In Eagle County, only residents of the county who are age 70 and up will be allowed to get the vaccine. There are three clinics scheduled next week – Thursday in Eagle, Friday in El Jebel and Saturday in Edwards – where people can be vaccinated. The county will start scheduling appointments on Monday.

In Denver, frontline law enforcement and fire workers started being vaccinated this week. The city said it is partnering with Safeway Pharmacies to vaccinate health care workers and first responders in Phases 1A and 1B and would be working with the state to coordinate vaccinating the broader 1B group and the next two phases to follow.

Grand County said it is in the final stages of Phase 1A and will begin work on the first part of Phase 1B – health care workers, first responders, and people over age 70 – soon. The county said that it would not begin the second part of Phase 1B – which includes frontline essential workers, essential government workers and essential frontline journalists – until it receives specific guidance from the governor’s office and CDPHE.

The Delta County Health Department said Thursday it is still in Phase 1A and would begin Phase 1B as soon as they are finished with 1A.

Goussetis said in Boulder County, the new additions to Phase 1B amount to about 30,000 more people who could potentially be vaccinated and that vaccine supplies were far short of that.

“So, it’s still going to take us quite a number of months to be able to get the vaccine into the arms of all of the people for Phase 1,” she said.

Polis and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said that the timetable to get Phase 1 recipients vaccinated was contingent on the federal supply chain holding up on schedule, but Colorado and other states have at times received fewer vaccines than they were expecting.

“We just don’t really ever know exactly how many vaccines we’re going to have. We don’t know exactly when we’re going to get them, so it’s very difficult to set up clinics to get vaccine into people when we don’t know how much we’re going to have,” Goussetis said.

She advised people not to call their pharmacies to try to find out more about when they could get vaccinated, saying the pharmacies do not yet know either.

The CDPHE also is including frontline and essential workers and government employees in 1B in addition to people age 70 and up. The department said in a news release Wednesday it expects to have vaccinated “the majority of phase 1A health care workers” by Jan. 15.

The CDPHE said it is “coordinating with local public health agencies, health care providers, pharmacies, and diverse community partners” to distribute the vaccine through Phase 1. Some in the group will be vaccinated through their employer, public health agency, a vaccine provider or through a federal long-term care pharmacy partnership program.

“For individuals not receiving a vaccine through one of these options, the state is actively working with local public health agencies to determine which additional providers will vaccinate members of the 1A and 1B groups. Several counties are planning to hold mass vaccination clinics for members of their communities. In the coming days and as more information becomes finalized, we will publish additional locations for vaccine distribution on the state’s website,” the CDPHE said in the Wednesday release.

Denver Health said it is fast-tracking plans to vaccinate “as many people in the expanded group as possible over the coming weeks” and said priority would be given to patients age 70 and up who have received medical are at a Denver Health facility within the past three years.

“We hope to begin vaccinating these high-priority individuals immediately and will be reaching out to patients and employees the week of January 4 with more information on when and where they can get scheduled. Our accelerated efforts will likely include offering vaccinations on campus at Denver Health, at our community health centers and utilizing our mobile health clinics,” Denver Health said in a statement.

Centura Health said it is in the process of notifying 1B recipients, finalizing which clinics they will be working with and doubling shot clinic capacity. The company said that it would be inviting people 70 and up to be vaccinated through their Centura account and email. Centura said that they will choose a list of patients who qualify for the group and a computer will randomize who receives the vaccine first.

UCHealth said it had started providing vaccines to a limited number of seniors age 75 and up because it has a limited number of vaccines but that it will soon to expand out to. People 70 and older. The company said it will also be sending messages to customers’ My Health Connection accounts that will allow them to schedule an appointment. But they said people should remain patient.

“Invitations are being sent at random to those in this age group via patients’ electronic medical record portal known as My Health Connection,” the company said. “While supplies of coronavirus vaccines for older adults are still very limited and insufficient to vaccinate everyone at this time, the random selection and appointment process helps ensure that the process is safe, secure and fair to everyone. Plans to offer vaccines to underserved populations and those who do not have a My Health Connection account are also being developed.”

Several Coloradans who are close to 70 years old or older expressed frustrations with the lack of clarity about when they might be vaccinated.

“You told me I can get this vaccination, but you don’t tell me how and you don’t tell me when,” said Mitch Cannon, 73, who said he found the state’s COHELP hotline and vaccinations websites unhelpful.

“They couldn’t tell you much of anything and it’s all pre-recorded,” Cannon added.

Tim Gognat, a 69-year-old Lakewood resident who turns 70 in the spring and says he has pre-existing conditions, said he spent the morning on the phone and calling around to his doctor and another before calling the hotline.

“It took me 30 minutes of hold time to get in touch with someone there. They didn’t have any guidance, or they could not provide a place that I could go or inquire about the vaccine,” he said. “So there seems to be quite a bit of confusion out there in terms of the availability and the timing.”

“It would be really important if the governor’s office and public health officials would clarify things with the news organizations and the general public. It would avoid a lot of confusion and a lot of wasted effort,” Gognat added.

In an interview with Denver7 Thursday, Gov. Polis told people to be patient and stuck to his timeline of 4-5 weeks to have the group of people 70 and up vaccinated with their first dose.

“I know nobody wants to be patient; we all want this right now, right? You will be contacted by your provider when there’s an opportunity to set up an appointment. But look, if you’re over 70, you’ll be able to get this within 4-5 weeks,” Polis said. “…I know it’s tough to be patient, and days matter because you want to hang out with your grandkids, your family, you want to go out. But we’ll get through the entire group of 70 and up in 4 to 5 weeks.”

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