Official: Pfizer vaccine could be in Aspen-area next week

Three-phase rollout to start with local health care workers on front lines

The first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine are expected to be shipped to Aspen Valley Hospital next week after a federal advisory panel formally recommended the Food and Drug Administration authorize it Thursday.

That’s according to two Pitkin County public health officials, who said frontline COVID-19 health care workers, nursing home residents and first-responders will receive first dibs on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, with most members of the general public able to gain access to it by summer.

But don’t ditch those well-honed social-distancing techniques just yet.

“Don’t expect to get the shot and take your mask off,” said Carlyn Porter, Pitkin County Public Health’s emergency preparedness coordinator.

Interim Public Health Director Jordana Sabella said face masks and distancing will remain imperative for months while the vaccine is distributed.

“It’s still a long road,” she said.

Pitkin County’s vaccine distribution plan.

However, it’s getting shorter with the vaccines coming online, and Pitkin County Public Health, which has been planning a vaccine distribution strategy since June, unveiled its plan Thursday for county Board of Health members. The first phase will roll out this winter.

The minimum 975 dose order of the first vials of Pfizer vaccine will be shipped to Aspen Valley Hospital, which has an “ultra-cold” storage facility required to keep it viable, Porter said.

Once received, that will trigger the plan’s “Phase 1A,” which will concentrate on inoculating the highest risk health care workers in the community who deal directly with COVID-19 patients for 15 minutes or more during a 24-hour period, according to a slide shown at Thursday’s health board meeting. Also in that first group will be residents and staff at long-term care facilities, including the 25 residents of the Whitcomb Terrace Assisted Living facility located near the hospital.

Community Health Services, a local public health contractor, will receive the first shipment of the Moderna vaccine and begin distributing it as part of the county’s “Phase 1B,” said Liz Stark, the agency’s director. CHS has the capacity to store the Moderna vaccine, which requires frozen but not “ultra cold” conditions, she said.

The minimum Moderna order is 100 doses, though Stark said she wasn’t sure how many the county would initially receive. More doses will be shipped on a weekly basis, she said.

Phase 1B will include health care workers with less direct contact with COVID-19 patients, home health care and hospice workers, those who work in dental settings as well as first-responders such as police, firefighters and 911 dispatchers, according to the county.

As winter turns to spring, “Phase 2” will begin.

That will provide vaccines to “higher-risk individuals and essential workers,” including people age 65 and older and those with obesity, diabetes, chronic lung disease and other ailments vulnerable to COVID-19. The group also will include grocery store employees and school staff who regularly interact with the public at work, as well as others who work in “high density” settings.

Finally, “Phase 3” hits in summer, when anyone between the ages of 18 and 64 without high-risk conditions will be inoculated. By that point, the vaccines could be available in pharmacies, where they will be treated along the lines of flu shots, Stark said.

Both vaccines require a second shot — 21 days after the first for the Pfizer and 28 days after the first for the Moderna. The Pfizer vaccine is said to be 95% effective at preventing COVID-19, while the Moderna is advertised as 94.5% effective.


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