Aspen COVID-19 vaccine clinic inoculating at a fast clip
New drive-thru operation administered more than 1,100 doses in two days at Benedict Music Tent parking lot setup
Last week’s first large-scale vaccine clinic in Aspen, which inoculated 1,150 people in a matter of two days, has been heralded as one of the most successful and unprecedented local COVID-19 operations to date.
Led by Pitkin County’s incident management team, and with the cooperation of many agencies including the city of Aspen, Aspen Valley Hospital, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, the Music Associates of Aspen, as well as volunteers, the clinic was set up within days of receiving notification by the state that vaccines were being sent here.
“It was certainly a monumental effort, without a doubt,” Aspen Ambulance Director Gabe Muething said Monday. “We only had a few days’ notice to put this plan into place and overnight designed what we felt was going to be a very efficient way to get vaccines into our 70-plus crowd.”
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment notified county officials on Jan. 7 that they would be receiving first-round Pfizer vaccine doses within a few days for those in the 1B phase of distribution.
The incident management team met the next day and worked through the weekend to find a location and then prepare it and set up the infrastructure, said Pitkin County Undersheriff Alex Burchetta.
Those who had pre-registered via a county online form were randomly selected and notified early last week that they could schedule an appointment for either Thursday or Friday.
The doses showed up last Wednesday and the clinic was open the next day.
“Our goal was not to let any of those go to waste or sit on a shelf, but into people’s arms,” Muething said. “We are the biggest, keep-it-simple-and-smart group you’ve ever seen and that’s really our goal through and through.”
The clinic is set up in the parking of the Benedict Music Tent with eight lanes sectioned off where people drove up to a 40–by-100-foot tent to first get registered through the county’s incident management team and then inoculated by AVH medical staff while remaining in their cars.
From there, people were directed to the eastern side of the parking lot where they were observed for roughly 15 minutes to make sure no side effects occurred.
The entire process took between 15 and 25 minutes, according to various accounts by people who received the vaccine.
“I expected a long wait but I blew through there,” said Old Snowmass resident Michael Kinsley. “It operated like they had been there for months.”
Burchetta said without the cooperation and assistance from the Music Associates of Aspen and the city’s streets, community development and manager’s offices, the team would not have been able to pull off such an endeavor.
The same goes for Scott Mattice, the county’s road and bridge manager, who had to prepare the site so it could operate safely and efficiently.
That meant plowing the parking lot, setting up the tent and the mobile command trailer that served as the vaccine lab, as well as workspaces in the tent, heating elements and ensuring traffic flow was safe for volunteers and staff.
“I joked early on that we were planning a party for 1,100 people in about two days,” Mattice said. “Our team did the initial attack and hit the ground running for the first 48 hours and then continued on for that first week.”
Burchetta said the clinic and the lead-up to it has been one of the most rewarding experiences in his law enforcement career.
“What an honor it is for us to be able to do this for our community,” he said. “It’s been a really rough year obviously since March 8 of 2020 and I am not going to say that there is light at the end of the tunnel but it certainly feels like we’re moving in the right direction.”
Local officials expected more doses to be delivered this week but after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced Friday that the federal government failed to deliver on its promise for 200,000 COVID doses to the state, the county is in a holding pattern.
But the good news is “everything is built, everything is put up, we have a structure in place. All we need is the vaccine and we are ready to go.”
The county team puts an order in every week with the state and waits to hear what it will receive from the CDPHE.
Muething said he is not concerned about the required second dose for the 1,150 individuals who were inoculated last week. In three weeks, they will receive their second injection.
“What we understand from CDPHE is that those doses have already been allocated,” he said.
Last week’s clinic manned about 50 people, from county staff to AVH doctors, nurses, clinical technicians, firefighters, paramedics, city special events workers and volunteers.
With that arsenal of workers and the organized set up, the operation was able to inoculate and register for the next dose 120 people an hour. The goal was 75 an hour, Muething said.
“We were all just jumping for joy,” he said, adding a longtime police officer told him on site last week that he had never witnessed a public safety incident where everybody was happy and excited.
“People came through and were just overjoyed that, No. 1, we were able to get the vaccine, but No. 2 that it was so efficient and our staff was just so friendly and happy to be able to do this for our community,” Muething said. “It was an incredible feeling … we had people crying in line because it was that emotional for them to get this.”
“Whoever thought that getting a shot would be such a joy?” he said, adding he had no side effects whatsoever, including no pain in his arm.
Muething said while many people at the clinic were eager for the vaccine, some also were hesitant. He urged people to educate themselves on the county’s website, which has facts and answers to questions about the vaccine.
Dr. Catherine Bernard, AVH chief of staff, said the operation was so efficient to be able to keep the vaccine in cold storage and move people through the tent quickly.
“The scene was very hopeful and such a bubble of light in a dark time,” she said, adding she agrees with incident management team members that the operation will continue for the next 18 to 20 weeks, or longer. “This is what we are going to do until we get the vaccine into anyone’s arms who wants it.”
People have to preregister before they will get scheduled for a shot. There are over 8,000 people who have preregistered already.
Burchetta said according to census data, there are just over 17,750 residents in the county.
“We are in this for the long haul,” he said. “We wanted to keep it flexible and adaptable and scalable so that if one week we have 1,100 vaccines and then the next week we have 3,000 or 500 that is something that we can expand and contract as the dose allocation fluctuates.”
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