Need a vaccine? Call the health department — director urges patience during ‘very disorganized’ rollout

by Mark Craddock
LAS ANIMAS/ HUERFANO — For Las Animas and Huerfano County residents, especially those over age 70, seeking to receive the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, the best advice is to call the local health department at (719) 738-2650 (Walsenburg) or (719) 846-2213 (Trinidad).

Health department staff will either schedule eligible members of the public for a vaccine if they have it in stock, or will take their information and get back to them when more vaccine becomes available.

Local health director Kim Gonzales said citizens can also contact Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center (SPRHC) in Walsenburg, or Mt. San Rafael Hospital or Salud Family Health Centers in Trinidad to arrange for vaccinations.

But if you are not in the list of recipients eligible under the state’s 1B guidelines, you’re going to have to wait your turn.
Gonzales admitted Tuesday that the early vaccine rollout has been “very disorganized.”

“We were just thrown a curve ball and are trying to make do with the limited resources we have,” she said. “We’re fortunate to have the hospital systems to help in getting the doses out.”

On Dec. 22, the first of the vaccines made their way into arms of residents of Spanish Peaks Veterans Community Living Center at SPRHC, then frontline healthcare workers, hospital staff, first-responders and others listed as eligible in the state’s phase 1A rollout. Things went smoothly within this fairly small, controlled group of recipients.
The “curve ball” that has health department phones ringing off the hook, Garcia said, came as the state moved to phase 1B rollout. Gov. Polis announced last week a new list of recipients eligible under phase 1B. Under the new guidelines released Dec. 30, 1B recipients include Coloradans age 70 and older, moderate-risk health care workers, first responders, frontline essential workers and those necessary for continuity of state government.

“It’s overwhelming because we didn’t anticipate the change to 70-plus until the governor made the announcement. We didn’t have a plan in place to accommodate that.”

The announcement, combined with a vaccine rollout that has been spotty at best and with fewer allotments than anticipated, has left local health officials scrambling.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday that 17,020,575 doses of the vaccine have been distributed to states, with over 4 million citizens receiving their first injection in the two-dose regimen. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported Wednesday that 120,510 Coloradans had received their first vaccine dose.

“We have a limited allotment of vaccine that comes in and we don’t know what allotment we get until it shows up,” Gonzales said. “This week we’re not sure if we are going to receive an allotment.”

“Once we get a notification that a larger allotment of vaccine is coming, I hope to set up mass vaccine sites like we have done before with flu shots,” she said. “But until we know what our allotments are, I don’t want to give false hopes.”
Adding to the strain on local health resources, she said, is that personnel previously dedicated to administering tests, contact tracing and case administration are now having to also answer the phones, schedule appointments and administer the shots.

In short, public health needs help – or at the very least, patience and understanding.

Good News From SPRHC
SPRHC, which has been left reeling under a COVID-19 outbreak that has left 10 veterans center residents dead and dozens of residents and staff infected, reported no new cases among residents or staff in this week’s round of testing. The facility presently has no active cases and there are no patients in the facility’s dedicated COVID rooms.
SPRHC spokesperson Trapper Collova said the facility has administered 296 vaccinations to date and expects to receive 200 new doses this week. Upon receipt of vaccine, SPRHC will notify the public via Facebook, e-mail and website. Upcoming vaccinations will be carried out independently by SPRHC and the local health department, Collova said.