Colorado tests COVID-19 vaccine delivery with a trial run to Vail Health |

Colorado tests COVID-19 vaccine delivery with a trial run to Vail Health

National Guard, Department of Homeland Security helps ferry package from DIA to hospital

Members of the media, with security in tow, follow a package mimicking a shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine as it arrives at Vail Health on Tuesday morning.
John LaConte/

VAIL — Vail Health received a special delivery on Tuesday as the state department of public health readies for the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine in Colorado.

In an official drill, a convoy of state agencies simulated what the vaccine’s arrival will look like in Vail.

Vail Health was the first site selected in Colorado for the test run. When the real vaccine arrives to various UPS or FedEx shipping centers around the state, a courier service will be used to send the vaccine to hubs like Vail Health.

Courier Lee Gomez said the ride was tense, but also a welcome diversion from his regular courier duties. As one of the owners of Swift Courier Services, he took on the job personally.

“Printing companies, real estate, pharmacists, you name it, we do it,” he said, however, “never with some many people following, and state patrol.”

’As soon as next week’

In addition to state and local law enforcement, officials from the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the Colorado National Guard were along for the rehearsal.

Vail Health is one of eight locations in Colorado selected to receive the first round of vaccines; selected facilities were chosen based on their deep freezing capabilities.

Vail Health Inpatient Pharmacy Manager Jessica Peterson loads a package of mock vaccine doses into a deep freezer at Vail Health hospital on Tuesday. The hospital was chosen for a trial run of a COVID vaccine delivery. John LaConte

Once the vaccine arrives in Vail, “the state would contract with couriers or other resources for the redistribution,“ said Micki Trost, a public information officer with the State Emergency Operations Center.

In addition to Vail Health in Eagle County, Colorado Mountain Medical and Doctors on Call will receive the vaccine, said Eagle County Deputy County Manager Angelo Fernandez.

While the hospital is still waiting on the governor’s office for specifics, Vail Health is hoping it could receive its first round of real vaccines “as soon as next week,” said Kimberly Flynn, Vail Health’s safety manager.

Those first doses will be available to all ER staff and front-line nurses and physicians who want them, as well as people in the Castle Peak Senior Living in Eagle, among others. The county has developed a tiered system for distributing the vaccine, Fernandez said.

“Part of that first shipment that we do get in will be distributed to our vulnerable populations in cared living facilities, as well as our health providers in positions that have higher exposure to COVID, including the emergency departments here at Vail Health, as well as health providers around the valley that are administering COVID tests,” Fernandez said.

The trial run of a COVID vaccine plan went as far as including a shot in the arm for Vail Health Infection Preventionist Caitlyn Ngam, who received a mock injection from employee health nurse Diane Schmidt on Tuesday. John LaConte

Vail Health CEO Will Cook said because the hospital just opened a new, 350,000 square-foot wing last week, the timing couldn’t be better.

“Not only because we needed the enhanced services to provide care to COVID patients, but because we’re able to redistribute our old emergency department for vital in-patient service space,” Cook said. “So that we can actually separate those people who do have COVID from those who don’t.”

Cook said the hospital was honored to be selected by Gov. Polis for the test run.

National Guard assistance

For Gomez, Tuesday’s courier experience was surreal, and a bit nerve-racking.

But as out of the ordinary as it was, in other ways it was an easy job, with a team helping to control the unpredictable aspects of a drive from the Front Range to Vail.

Lieutenant Col. Andrew Pollart, a task force operations officer with the Colorado National Guard, said the guard was planning on assisting with courier services further once the full vaccine is ready.

“There are going to be counties that are very rural, and those will be the ones where I anticipate seeing more guard help, as far as pushing the vaccine out to those end users, the providers,” Pollart said.

Gomez said above all else, he was thankful to have the work.

“There has been a real hit in the market for customers that use courier services,” Gomez said. “Forty to fifty customers less, per month, compared to what we had previously.”

The new stream of vaccine delivery revenue will help him make up part of the loss.

“We are really lucky to have a close relationship with the Colorado Department of Public Health,” Gomez said.

Support Local Journalism