State of Vail Health address: Teacher vaccines available Feb. 8, restaurant workers March 5 |

State of Vail Health address: Teacher vaccines available Feb. 8, restaurant workers March 5

CEO shares message of optimism amid acknowledgment that coronavirus is here to stay

The helipad from the new East Wing of the Vail Health Hospital Monday in Vail. The new hospital wing opened to the public in December.
Chris Dillmann/

VAIL — The opening of a large new space, along with early anticipation of the coronavirus threat, made Vail Health able to stay well within its limit of hospital beds during the 2020 pandemic. And while hospitalizations are dropping, the virus is here to stay, and the hospital will need to continue to stay focused on vaccine distribution for many years to come.

Those are few of several broad messages communicated to the public Tuesday from CEO Will Cook during the hospital’s State of Vail Health address. The annual event was held virtually this year, and the hospital addressed a few questions from the community via Zoom. Cook was joined by Vail Health Chief Population Health Officer Chris Lindley.

In a more pinpointed message, Lindley said starting Feb. 8, anyone over 65, as well as all educators in Eagle County, will be eligible to receive a vaccine by signing up at

However, “That does not mean you will get a vaccine next week,” Lindley added. “We are going to push out as many vaccines as we have available, but we will not have enough vaccines the first week to get everybody who wants one.

“As soon as March 5 … front line workers and Coloradans age 16-64 that have two or more high risk conditions will be eligible,” Lindley said. “Those front line workers, that includes those who work in the restaurant industry.”

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High distribution

Lindley said in the first round of vaccinations, 93 percent of Vail Health workers who were eligible to get the vaccine, himself included, opted to receive it.

“While we’re happy to report while you might have some minor side effects, the day after the second dose you might feel a little crumby for a day, it’s much better than getting COVID or sharing COVID with a loved one,” he said.

Lindley said there have been a lot of questions about vaccinating people who do not live in Eagle County.

“The guidance to us as a health care entity, as a hospital, is: You vaccinate anybody that’s a Colorado resident and/or property owner, as long as they fit within the defined categories that we’re in,” Lindley said. “That’s what we’ve been doing, and that’s what we will continue to do.”

Lindley also said the so-called “left over” vaccines, which might otherwise be discarded, will not be available at Vail Health.

“Do not come to the vaccination clinics, both the county and the Vail Health vaccination clinics, thinking at the end of the day, you’re going to be able to get one of the vaccines that’s left over,” Lindley said. “We are scheduling them down to the specific dose now, and we are not going to have any vaccines left over each day.”

The West Wing of Vail Health Hospital opened in the summer of 2017.
Chris Dillmann photo.

‘Like seasonal influenza’

The positive message from Vail Health, amid the backdrop of the widely-shared quote in which President Biden said our fight against the virus will have “Dark Days ahead,” spurred Cook to address a perceived contradiction in local and national messaging.

“The more and more this virus mutates, the more likely it is that it could figure out a way to get around the vaccine, so this race between trying to get enough vaccines approved, and then ultimately produced and then distributed and put into arms, is being done in the context of these mutations that are taking place,” Cook said. “By this summer, we should have a large percentage of our population vaccinated, we should be back to the warmer weather, and hopefully we’ll have had enough time for all of these drug manufacturers to also do what they’ve already started, which is figure out what the next vaccine will look like, as we all will probably have to get a booster shot of this at some point in the fall or maybe next winter.”

Lindley said getting rid of COVID-19 altogether in Eagle County is probably not going to happen.

“COVID-19 is never, in my opinion, never going away,” Lindley said. “We are going to continue to live with it, and deal with it, for generations to come. It will be like seasonal influenza, but like seasonal influenza, we will have updated vaccinations … updated boosters, better treatments, we’ll know how to control it better. But this is a highly infectious disease that has already spread around the entire globe, is well established, and to completely eradicate it is probably a fallacy at this point, but we can control it in our community by reaching herd immunity and getting to that 70 to 80 percent vaccination rate where we will still have a few cases but it won’t be shutting down our economy, shutting down our schools and changing our ways of life, hopefully, in the future.”

Other problems persist

In the future, Vail Health would like to get back to the other problems in the community, like behavioral health, and, in Cook’s words, “enhancing access to more affordable care.”

Cook said it is not easy to live in Eagle County, no thanks to the cost of health care.

“Housing is expensive, child care is hard to find, throw in the fact that health care is unattainable in many instances, and that could be the thing that makes someone either choose to stay and not have health insurance, or leave,” Cook said. “When you think about the fact that the state average for uninsured is 6 percent, and it’s 16 percent in this valley, that’s a problem.”

Vail Health CEO Will Cook talks to reporters Dec. 8 in Vail during a vaccine distribution test event.
John LaConte photo.

Cook said before COVID hit, Vail Health was in the process of trying to address that problem.

“We are still focused on getting that work going again,” Cook said. “We heard a lot of people say, hey, Will, I fall on the mountain, I wreck my bike, I go to try to get an MRI and it costs $2000, I could go to Glenwood and get it for less than $1000, or go down to Denver.”

Cook said while there is still work to be done, some services have decreased in price at the hospital. Cook referred to those as “shopable services,” and said they are services that, when a person does need care, do not “become a barrier.” Cook said the price adjustments have been absorbable from a business standpoint.

“As a result of doing this, we’ve seen our volume go up,” he said. “So it has actually helped us offset some of the losses associated with lowering our rates, by having people who heretofore were going to Denver to stay here in the Eagle River Valley.”

Cook said the hospital will continue to adjust rates moving forward to attract more business from injured locals.

“These are the sort of things that we’re going to try to focus on as we continue to try to tackle this big problem of enhancing access to more affordable care,” he said.

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