Summit health officials say prioritizing elderly over essential workers is more ‘equitable’ |

Summit health officials say prioritizing elderly over essential workers is more ‘equitable’

Officials say the county 'hasn’t wasted a single dose' of the vaccine

A vaccine kit — including the shot, bandages, a disinfectant wipe and cotton balls — sits on a table outside the Summit Community Care Clinic in Frisco on Friday, Jan. 8.
Photo by Libby Stanford /

With two new elected officials in tow, the Summit County Board of Health on Tuesday made it a point of emphasis to address the community’s questions, concerns and confusion about local COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Public Health Director Amy Wineland, alongside new Commissioners Tamara Pogue and Josh Blanchard, detailed why the county is prioritizing residents 70 and older — full-time or part-time — as opposed to younger full-time residents who work “essential” jobs.

With Gov. Jared Polis’ decision to focus on vaccinating those 70 and older, county boundaries “are going to become more and more obsolete,” Wineland said. She added that the vaccine allocation is no longer based on census population data and that the state is now using data from individual pharmacies and health care providers for patients in that age range over the past three years.

Wineland said counties across the state are directed by the governor’s office to continue vaccinating those 70 and older. As of now, Wineland said, it won’t be until March 1 when essential workers will be eligible to be vaccinated. But Wineland stressed that could change as it’s contingent on 70% of the state’s population 70 and older getting vaccinated first.

“Things are changing every day,” Wineland said. “What I can tell you is what I know now. Tomorrow, things may be different.”

The public health director also said it’s possible in the coming weeks that those 65 and older will be prioritized for the vaccine ahead of younger essential workers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended prioritizing that age group, but Polis indicated Tuesday that Colorado would stay the course until it could get more information from the federal government about supplies and timelines for distribution.

County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said she believes the governor is trying to distribute vaccinations “in the most equitable way.”

“Colorado has a very equitable plan based in science and data with the most vulnerable first receiving the vaccine, then moving down from there,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said the county is in a “unique situation” with its part-time residents and that she’ll miss the county’s Board of Health meeting Thursday to attend a meeting with the state regarding vaccinating the seasonal population.

Wineland stressed that vaccines going to part-time residents are not taking doses away from front-line workers.

“A vaccine that is going into the arm of a seasonal resident (above 70) is not taking away a vaccine from a 30-year-old school teacher in our community,” Wineland said. “We are just not there yet in the state of Colorado in terms of vaccinating educators (and other ‘essential’ workers) at this point.”

Wineland and Lawrence said part of the reason the state is prioritizing those 70 and older is because they are among the most susceptible to the virus and that the state wants to avoid overloading hospital and emergency resources.

Wineland said the county knows “people of color and those in the essential workforce are high risk of contracting (the virus).”

“But they are not as high risk for severe outcomes from the virus, and that’s why we’re starting with this (older) population,” Wineland said.

In an effort to address community concerns, Wineland said the county is prioritizing its drive-thru vaccination clinic for eligible full-time residents — including front-line health care workers, first responders and residents 70 and older — while asking part-time residents 70 and older to be vaccinated at area pharmacies, including City Market and Safeway, or health care providers, including the Summit Community Care Clinic.

Wineland said the county has drastically expanded capacity and partners for vaccine distribution in recent days. That includes 600 pharmacy vaccine appointments this week.

Wineland said the state “delivered” on the county’s request for vaccines this week, with Summit receiving 2,100 doses — nearly as many vaccines as the county has distributed in total to this point.

And that’s just the county’s side of things, Wineland said. She clarified that each time the county brings on a partner and shows them the ropes of the vaccine distribution system, those partners can then order their own vaccines from the state based on what they think they can distribute.

“City Market in Breck and Dillon put in their own orders of 200 each this past time,” Wineland said. “… How it works, as each provider comes on and takes vaccines on, some control from us will go away. We are empowering other providers to take that on.”

Wineland said the county hopes to bring pharmacies at Walmart, Walgreens and Target “on board in the next week or two.” She also said the county is hoping to partner with the Family & Intercultural Resource Center in Silverthorne in the next few weeks as an additional vaccination site meant to reach the Hispanic population in the northern part of the county.

Assistant County Manager Sarah Vaine said Summit County “hasn’t wasted a single dose” of the vaccine, using 100% of provided doses compared with the statewide average of 51%.

“If there’s four left at the pod, we’ll run over to Safeway so they can get four more appointments in,” Vaine said about the county’s effort. “We’re doing everything to make sure not a single dose is wasted.”

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