Limited supply slows rollout of COVID vaccination in Garfield County

Officials: Keep wearing a mask in public, even if vaccinated

John Stroud
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
A photo of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine vial.

Garfield County’s health care network easily has the capacity to administer twice as many COVID-19 vaccinations than it has given so far, Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long said Monday.

The problem, she said, is that the county has only received about half the doses requested from the state of Colorado, which in turn relies on vaccine distribution at the federal level.

“That continues to be a struggle and a challenge for all of us, at the state and federal level, which then comes down to the local level,” Long said during a vaccine update to county commissioners Monday morning.

Long addressed concerns expressed by many residents of the county that the vaccine rollout locally has been slow.

Many of those now eligible to receive the vaccine, including people age 70 and older, have been put on long wait lists or not even wait-listed at all until more vaccines are available.

“We just have way more people who want the vaccine than there is vaccine available,” she said. “Right now, it’s just sort of a game of persistence and patience.”

To date, since the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were made available in mid-December, Garfield County has received 3,715 doses.

However, because the viles often contain an extra dose, the county’s two hospitals, Valley View in Glenwood Springs and Grand River in Rifle, have been able to administer 4,092 doses, Long said.

“We’re not willing to waste or not use any vaccines in this county,” she said.

The challenge continues to be on the supply side, with only between 200 and 600 doses typically available per week, Long said, including 400 doses this week.

“That’s nothing to be able to start any sort of mass vaccination program … and doesn’t go very far when we have to consider second doses right now.”

During one recent week, she said the county had requested 8,000 doses, and was fully prepared to administer that many, Long said. It received 300 that particular week, she said.

Of the vaccines administered in Garfield County to date, about 2,000 have gone to frontline health-care workers and first responders, and about 1,860 have gone to the 70-plus age group — both part of the 1A priority group, Long said.

For the 70-plus group, that represents about 30% to 40% of the county’s population in that age range, not including residents in long-term care facilities, Long said.

All but three long-term care facilities have had their residents fully vaccinated at this point through separate contracts with Walgreens and CVS, she said. Vaccines for nursing and other group home settings are handled directly through the state, Long explained.

Not ready for expansion

Nationally, the vaccine has been opened up to other frontline critical workers falling in the 1B group, such as teachers and other school workers, as well as extending the age to 65 and older. However, Colorado is not yet able to accommodate those groups, Long clarified.

That led to some confusion last week, when those age 65-70 in Garfield County began inquiring about receiving the vaccine.

Valley View Hospital and Grand River Health are continuing to follow the state priorities of vaccinating people 70 and older before any expansion to those 65 and older.

“People that are 70-plus in age will need to make appointments with local hospitals to receive the vaccine,” Garfield County Public Health said in a statement issued last Wednesday. “Appointments are only being made as the vaccine is available.”

The state’s goal is to vaccinate 70% of Colorado’s 70-plus population by Feb 28.

In Garfield County, more than 200 second doses have already been administered in the county, she said. Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require a second dose.

Community concerns

County commissioners heard from one member of the public, Ann Faulk of Glenwood Springs, who suggested the county set up an electronic alert system to let people know when appointments are being taken and for which priority groups.

She also suggested that, in addition to the two hospital vaccine sites, the county also consider setting up some community vaccination clinics once the vaccine is more readily available to avoid backlogs.

Long said the state is working to launch a statewide notification system. In the meantime, she encouraged eligible residents to continue calling the nearest hospital — Valley View at 970-384-7632, or Grand River at 970-625-1100 — to see when appointments are being scheduled.

Public Health workers have also been available to assist people with the online scheduling, she said. But she encouraged the public to also lend a helping hand if they know of anyone who may be having troubles with computer or internet access.

Long also advised those who have received the vaccine or are in the process to receive a second dose to not let their guard down when it comes to public health precautions, including wearing masks.

Just because someone is vaccinated against COVID-19 doesn’t mean they couldn’t potentially be a carrier of the virus, putting unvaccinated contacts at risk, Long said.

Also, anyone who has had COVID-19 or tested positive but was asymptomatic should still get vaccinated, she said.

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