Summit County officials address SC Alert concerns after vaccine appointments fill up in minutes
Just eight minutes after opening Tuesday, Feb. 9, all of Summit County’s vaccine appointments were full, county spokesperson Nicole Valentine wrote in an email.
With such high demand and a whole new group of people eligible to get the vaccine, it can feel like an appointment is harder to secure than Beyoncé tickets.
But unlike other blink-and-you-miss-it items, vaccine appointments aren’t going away. The county will be receiving doses weekly for the foreseeable future.
“We’re not going to get enough to do everybody all at once,” Public Health Director Amy Wineland said at a Summit County Board of Health meeting Tuesday. “What we do know is that we’ll continue to get some on a weekly basis.”
Even knowing that supply is limited, some people still are frustrated with the process for making appointments. The county uses SC Alert, a system that it previously used to let people know about emergency situations, road closures or controlled burns.
Now, the county is using the alert system to notify the public when vaccine appointments are available. However, there’s one problem: The system is delayed when sending out text messages, emails and phone calls.
It can take as long as 40 minutes for a person to receive a phone call about open appointments, meaning the alert could come long past when appointments are filled. On Tuesday, many people received their alert after all the appointments had been filled, Valentine said.
The county has about 30,000 subscribers to the alert system, accounting for some of the delay, Valentine said at the meeting.
“Text messages go through the fastest,” she said. “It seems to take longer to get those phone calls out to all individuals that are subscribed.”
Even if there wasn’t a delay to the alert system, there’s no getting around the fact that appointments will fill up fast. The 2018 census estimated there are 1,548 residents ages 65-69 in Summit County, which doesn’t include the educators and child care workers in the county. In total, Wineland said she estimates the new phase includes about 3,000 residents.
The county itself received only 60 doses to administer to the 65-and-older population at its drive-thru event Saturday, Feb. 13, according to a Summit County government Facebook post. Educators and child care workers are being told to communicate with their employers about scheduling an appointment, so the alert system applies only to people who are 65 and older.
There are other factors contributing to a slower distribution process, as well. The county is anticipating receiving fewer doses in its weekly allocations than it did at the beginning of the vaccine distribution process. Because the county was better prepared to distribute doses when the vaccine became available in December, it received more than surrounding areas.
Now that counties across the state are better equipped for vaccine distribution, the allocation of doses from the state is more equitable.
“Everybody is starting … at the same point and level of distribution with the prioritized population,” Wineland said.
The county and providers who receive the vaccine are required to set aside one-third of their allocation for educators. That means about 200 of the 616 doses that providers across the county received this week are being reserved for educators.
“We had requested more vaccine from the state, however received far less than our request due to limited vaccine availability and the fact that many counties have not been able to offer the vaccine to their 70-plus population,” Valentine wrote in an email.
Officials say the process ultimately is going to require a lot of patience from the public. Valentine maintains that the SC Alert system, which people can sign up for by going to SCAlert.org, is the best way to be notified of open appointments.
“As we open up to more folks, at first there will be a huge demand, and it will seem like many people can’t get a spot,” Commissioner Josh Blanchard said at the meeting. “Then we’ll reach some sort of capacity, and we’ll probably be expected to wait a few weeks because the county has done such a great job, and then it may open again, and there will be a rush.”
Who is eligible:
• Health care workers and first responders
• Seniors ages 65 and older
• Teachers, child care workers and other people essential to the operation of schools and child care centers
Make an appointment:
The following links have information about how to schedule a coronavirus vaccination appointment across the state:
• Summit County: SummitCountyCo.gov/vaccine (Individuals who need assistance scheduling an appointment can call 970-668-9730)
• Centura Health: Centura.org/covid-19/covid-19-vaccine-information
• List of vaccination providers across Colorado: CoCOVIDVaccine.org
Educators and child care workers should ask their employer about scheduling an appointment. People with questions about the local response to COVID-19 can call the county’s hotline at 970-668-9730 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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