Summit County reallocates vaccine doses to neighboring counties
Health officials say helping other communities catch up will allow Summit to get to essential workers sooner
With Summit County nearing a “saturation point” in its efforts to vaccinate the 70-plus population, local officials are turning their gaze and resources to surrounding counties.
Starting this week, Summit County officials have been sending some doses to neighboring Clear Creek, Park and Lake counties. The goal is not to take doses away from Summit County residents but to help get the state to the next phase of vaccine distribution, which includes essential workers.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has made it clear that the state won’t be vaccinating essential workers until 70% of the state’s 70-and-older population is vaccinated. That group accounts for about half of the state’s hospitalizations and about 75% of deaths, according to state data.
“We’re really trying to be really good stewards of the vaccine and make sure that we’re going to continue to identify those that meet that criteria within our community with very targeted outreach at this point,” Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland said about local pop-up vaccine clinics. “But we also understand that we as a state can get there much more quickly … if we partner and share the vaccine.”
On Friday, Jan. 22, the Summit Community Care Clinic, in partnership with the county’s public health team, will be hosting a distribution drive at the Fairplay school campus.
The clinic already operates school-based health centers out of Park and Lake counties and is using those partnerships with the schools to support the vaccination event.
“When we reached a point where our demand was falling fairly considerably, we got the green light from the state to reach out to our partner communities,” Care Clinic CEO Helen Royal said. “A lot of workers work in Summit County but live in those communities, so we feel like it’s an extension of Summit to some extent.”
The clinic will be administering 300 vaccines Friday, all of which originally were allocated to Summit. Royal said all of the appointments for the drive were full as of Wednesday morning.
“(It’s) super exciting and shows the need in that community,” she said.
Summit County officials also sent 250 doses to Clear Creek County, where officials hosted a vaccine distribution drive Wednesday.
The county also used 200 doses this week for residents to be distributed through local pharmacies and Centura Health.
Wineland said the reallocation of the vaccines is a way to help the state meet its overall goal and avoid wasting any doses. When Wineland and her team realized demand for the vaccine among the 70-and-older population was dropping locally, they asked the state if they could lower the vaccination age to 65 or start vaccinating some essential workers.
“We were told ’no,’ and if we were hitting this point where vaccines were going to be sitting on the shelves, which we know we don’t want to have happen, that we needed to reallocate that vaccine to communities who haven’t received enough,” Wineland said.
Avoiding waste is a top priority when it comes to the vaccine. Public health officials aim to have doses off the shelves within 72 hours of arrival. Once it’s thawed, the Pfizer vaccine must be used within five days. The Moderna vaccine must be used within 30 days after being thawed.
With state officials now projecting that they won’t be able to move to the next phase until March 1, it was crucial for the county to use the doses as soon as possible. Wineland said she doesn’t anticipate the county reallocating doses on a regular basis — only when there are some left over to give.
Wineland added that Park County has received only 500 doses of the vaccine to allocate to the nearly 5,000 people who fall within the current phase.
Park also doesn’t have a major health care system within its borders, like Centura Health in Summit County, making the effort to distribute vaccines much more difficult.
“There’s not a lot of access points where vaccine could be distributed from,” Wineland said. “Though in a lot of the rural communities, they’re doing a really great job. If they don’t have health care networks that exist, that creates an extra layer of challenge to the situation.”
Wineland, Royal and Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue all acknowledged that the decision might give residents the impression that the county is prioritizing outsiders in its vaccine distribution plan.
“Our biggest priority is to get to our workforce,” Pogue said. “And the fastest way we can do that is to help some of our underserved communities in Colorado catch up to where we are.”
When it comes to vaccine allocation, the rapid changes coming from the state government — and conflicting information occasionally coming from the federal government — have caused confusion. But in Summit County, things are running smoothly, Royal said.
“It’s been very well-coordinated,” she said about Summit leading the state in distribution. “I think this is the part that the community perhaps doesn’t see. They just see, ’Oh no, there go our vaccines. What’s going on?’ Really, they’re following amazing guidance.”
Find the latest information about available appointments at SummitCountyCo.gov/1423/scheduling-vaccinations.
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