COVID-19 vaccine distribution continues locally

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    Residents 70 and over next priority

    By Randi Pierce
    Staff Writer

    Gov. Jared Polis’ announcement last week that Phase 1B of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan has been expanded led to questions, confusion and frustrations across the state as health officials work to distribute limited vaccine doses, and individuals look for information on how to receive the vaccine.

    In Archuleta County, vaccine distribution is continuing, with Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) CEO Dr. Rhonda Webb explaining on Wednesday that health officials are giving a second dose of the vaccine to people in Phase 1A and the top tiers of 1B (health care workers) and will begin vaccinations for the third tier of 1B (people age 70 and over) later this week.

    PSMC, she noted, is the only organization in Archuleta County administering the vaccine, and is distributing the vaccine as outlined by the governor’s office and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

    “Pagosa Springs Medical Center began administering COVID-19 vaccines on December 16, following the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s three-phase vaccine distribution plan,” a Tuesday press release from PSMC states. “The CDPHE plan stipulates that those at the highest risk of contracting the disease be vaccinated first. Phase 1 implementation is underway, Phase 2 will begin in the spring, and the final phase is expected to begin this summer.”

    That press release further explains that PSMC has finished the first of two vaccination shots for Archuleta County’s long-term care residents and staff, health care workers (high/moderate/low risk), and first responders. 

    “Vaccinations are a highly effective tool used to control viruses such as COVID-19. By shrinking the population of people who are susceptible to infection, vaccines prevent or slow a virus’ ability to spread from person to person. Vaccines do not guarantee immunity to a virus but may lessen the duration of illness and severity of symptoms if the virus is contracted,” Webb stated via the press release. “Southwest Colorado currently leads this State how quickly vaccines are administered upon receipt and PSMC will continue to vaccinate our community, in the sequence set by the State, as vaccine is made available to us. It is wonderful that we have heard from many people in our community who want to be vaccinated, but everyone needs to keep in mind that the State directed us that until authorized, we are not to go below the dotted line into the second tier of 1B or we risk losing our authorization to vaccinate.”

    Expanded priority groups 

    On Dec. 30, 2020, Gov. Jared Polis announced changes to the first phases of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

    Per the state, Phase 1A includes the highest-risk health care workers and individuals, such as people who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients for 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period and long-term care facility staff and residents.

    Phase 1B includes Coloradans age 70 and older, moderate-risk health care workers, first responders, frontline essential workers and continuity of state government.

    Frontline essential workers included in Phase 1B include those in education, food and agriculture, manufacturing, the U.S. Postal Service, public transit and specialized transportation staff, grocery, public health and direct care providers for Coloradans experiencing homelessness.

    It also includes “Essential officials from executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government” and “Essential frontline journalists.”

    Those subgroups, it was later clarified by the state, are tiers, and no one in the subgroups below individuals 70 and older (those below the dotted line) will receive the vaccine until the previous tiers are vaccinated.

    For more information, see the related vaccine distribution graphic.

    I’m 70 or older. How do I get the vaccine?

    With more vaccine doses expected to be delivered in the coming weeks, PSMC has begun taking reservations for vaccinations for county residents 70 and older. To make a reservation, persons over 70 who live in Archuleta County should visit https://pagosaspringsmedicalcenter.org/vaccine to complete and submit registration forms. 

    The following information was provided by PSMC.

    Once the forms are received by PSMC, PSMC will add the eligible person to a master reservation list and thereafter PSMC will email that person an appointment time as doses become available.

    Those who are unable to access the form online can call PSMC’s vaccine line at 507-3995 and leave a message with six pieces of information:

    • Full name.

    • Date of birth.

    • County of residence.

    • Phone number.

    • Email address.

    • Which group applies to you.

    PSMC will call those on its list to set up vaccine appointments.

    Webb noted that PSMC’s vaccine line was overloaded after it was announced, and PSMC anticipates delivering more than 300 doses to those 70 and older this week through appointments that have already been set up.

     People scheduled for vaccination must arrive for their appointment on time. Everyone arriving will be screened for temperature and COVID-19 symptoms, will need to sign a consent, receive a vaccination and be observed for a period of time post-vaccination. The entire process typically takes 30 minutes.

    “The vaccine we’re administering has a short shelf life, so timing and scheduling is critical to the vaccination process,” said Kathee Douglas, PSMC’s chief operating officer and chief nursing officer. “There’s very high demand for the vaccine, and every dose is designated to a specific person at a specific time, so we cannot afford to have people arrive late, cancel or not show up for their vaccination appointments. This means if a person is late or needs to reschedule, the appointment is canceled and the person is placed back on the reservation list.”

    “It’s very crucial that people come at their appointed time,” Webb reiterated Wednesday.

    I’m in another 1B group. When will it be my turn?

    “The 1B populations prioritized in the second 1B tier as subgroups 4, 5 and 6 (essential workers in education, food, agriculture, manufacturing, postal service, transportation, and public health and essential executive, legislative, judicial and state government workers and frontline journalists) will be vaccinated later this winter, after Archuleta County residents over the age of 70 are vaccinated,” PSMC’s press release explains.

    But a more specific timeline remains elusive.

    “It is difficult to estimate when additional categories of recipients will be able to receive vaccine, but we estimate that additional populations included in the expanded 1B category will be able to receive the vaccine in the next couple weeks,” an email from SJBPH Director of Communications states.

    To help collect information for whoever administers the vaccine to those additional groups, SJBPH has launched a form — available at http://bit.ly/35dzCLw or through SJBPH’s vaccine page, https://sjbpublichealth.org/covid-19-vaccine/ — for interested individuals to share their contact details to receive notifications when a vaccine becomes available for the phase they qualify for.

    About the vaccines

    So far, two COVID-19 vaccines, created by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use. Both vaccines require two doses, and after the second dose, are around 95 percent effective in protecting against COVID-19, PSMC’s press release explained. 

    PSMC is currently administering the Pfizer vaccine.

    “The FDA has concluded the vaccines do not present a safety concern and clinical trials have not resulted in any serious health complications,” the press release states. “Those who have tested positive for COVID and are within the quarantine period, or who are symptomatic should not receive the vaccine. People who have a history of allergic reactions to any component of the Pfizer vaccine should not be vaccinated.” 

    To date, according to PSMC, one person who received the vaccine at PSMC was treated for an allergic reaction and released.