As vaccines dribble in, Pitkin County officials raise equity questions
At the rate Pitkin County has been receiving vaccines from the state, it could take another two months just to vaccinate county residents 70 years old and older, an official said Tuesday.
“We’re a little concerned,” Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock told county commissioners Tuesday during their regular weekly work session. “We have really significant supply and demand problems with vaccines.”
The county originally was scheduled to receive 1,450 vaccine doses this week, but that order was canceled and instead the state shipped 100 doses, Peacock said. Appointments for those doses were filled in nine minutes, he said.
While Pitkin County did receive 1,100 second vaccine doses this week, about 1,600 residents 70 and older have registered to receive the vaccine but have not gotten the first dose yet, he said. About 1,000 have received the first dose.
Gabi Johnston, a state public health department spokeswoman, disputed Peacock’s timeline in an email Tuesday to The Aspen Times, saying the vaccination numbers for residents here 70 years old and older are not “quite right.”
Johnston said she was working with the department’s data team to provide accurate numbers to The Times, though those statistics were not available by Tuesday evening.
“Although there are various factors that go into determining each county’s allocation — Pitkin (County) is 0.31% of the population and they have received 0.49% of the allocation,” she said. “Some counties have received more doses because they are hosting large clinics or vaccinating people who live in surrounding counties.”
The state’s goal is to vaccinate at least 70% of residents 70 years and older by Feb. 28, Johnston said.
Pitkin County must vaccinate 1,820 of those 2,600 people 70 years and older in order to meet that goal, Peacock said. If the county continues to receive 100 doses a week, it will take about two months to achieve it.
In addition, while the county’s official Census population is just under 18,000, the actual long-term population — minus short-term visitors — is close to 40,000, he said, meaning the county’s population, including those 70 and older, is not accurately represented.
“We have all heard that other counties have been able to move farther down in the prioritization, which is why the equity questions are relevant,” Peacock said. “The base problem is that there still are not enough vaccines to distribute, the pool of eligible people to be prioritized keeps growing and there is not much transparency about how allocations are being made.”
Pitkin County Board Chairwoman Kelly McNicholas Kury echoed those concerns during Tuesday’s meeting, saying that Garfield County has begun vaccinating teachers, while Eagle County has received enough vaccine to inoculate one-third of its population.
“It’s impossible to find out from the state where the vaccine has been distributed,” she said. “There’s some equity questions I have. It’s a fair request on behalf of the public.”
The breakdown of the state’s vaccination distribution includes 60% to hospitals and retail pharmacies, 15% to community partners and local public health agencies, 15% to federally qualified health centers and 10% to the Equity Task Force, Johnston said.
The state will begin vaccinating residents ages 65 to 69 and pre-K-12 child care workers Feb. 8, though counties should not have started that process yet, she said.
“We are committed to distributing the vaccine equitably and efficiently,” she said in the email. “We have a systematic allocation process that uses the best available data at the county and provider level to ensure we are all moving collectively though the vaccination phases as vaccine supply is available.”
The first phase includes residents 70 years and older, as well as health care workers and emergency first responders. Next come residents 65 to 69 as well as pre-K-12 child care workers and members of the executive and judicial branches of government, followed by front-line essential workers and residents ages 16 to 64 with high risk conditions, according to the state’s latest distribution plans.
In other COVID-19 related news Tuesday:
• The Aspen Community Foundation began accepting applications Friday for more than $1.3 million in grants to local businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, the non-profit has received 75 applications, with reviews to begin this week, Peacock said.
Locally owned businesses are eligible for as much as $25,000 in grants, and checks may begin to go out to qualified businesses by next week, he said. More information is available at aspencommunityfoundation.org.
• Based on current COVID-19-related metrics, Pitkin County currently qualifies for the 5 Star Business Certification Program, which allows qualifying local businesses to operate under lesser restrictions than are allowed under the current public health order, Peacock said.
As of Tuesday morning, 63 businesses had applied for the program, he said.
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Nearly 100 locally-owned businesses negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic have been awarded grants from a pool of $1.2 million in relief funds from Pitkin County.