What a difference a week makes for Eagle County’s COVID-19 vaccination process
‘The intent is to make things a little more predictable and less stressful for people’
When it received word last week that COVID-19 vaccinations could open to the general public, age 70 and older, Eagle County had a clear goal – get as much vaccine out to the people as soon and as equitably as possible.
That goal remains unchanged, but the county’s methodology has undergone a massive makeover.
The initial vaccine rollout to the 70 and older group featured online and call-in processes that launched at 8 a.m. Jan. 4. That system was immediately overwhelmed with requests and roundly criticized when the approximately 500 vaccination appointments available to the demographic group — which numbers more than 4,300 people locally — were snatched up in about four minutes. Additional confusion resulted from a community vaccination system that included two portals — one through Eagle County and one through Vail Health.
One week later, both of these issues have been addressed.
Under the new system implemented this week, both Eagle County and Vail Health accept sign-ups from any residents in the 70 and older age group on a rolling basis. There is no set time window for submitting requests. Residents may sign up using the COVID-19 Vaccination Request Form or by calling 970-328-9750.
If the number of sign-ups exceeds the available amount of vaccine doses, appointments will be issued based on a lottery system among the eligible residents. Those who are selected to receive a vaccination are contacted, using the phone number or email address they provided, to schedule an appointment.
“On Monday, Jan. 4, we learned a lot. We heard from a lot of people that the process we implemented created a lot of anxiety,” said Eagle County Public Health and Environment Director Heath Harmon. “Over the past week, we have been partnering with Vail Health to think through what we each learned.”
As they started moving vaccine out to the community, Harmon said the county and Vail Health learned there was redundancy when they staffed independent vaccination efforts. Those redundancies were not limited to operations. Harmon said some county residents signed up with both agencies in their efforts to get vaccinated. That resulted in scheduling and rescheduling issues for both providers.
“The intent is to make things a little more predictable and less stressful for people,” said Eagle County Communications Director Kris Widlak. Under the new system, someone signs up once and then they are set, she noted.
“Vail Health is sending everyone to our form to fill out their vaccination clinics,” Widlak continued. “So far, we’ve had just over 1,700 people use the registration form. There are some who received the vaccine last week during the first Eagle County and Vail Health clinics prior to the release of this form, but that still leaves a lot of people out there who are eligible but have not yet registered. We really want to hear from them and get them signed up.”
“We know our systems and our processes are not going to be perfect, but we will continue to work to improve those processes,” Harmon added. “At the end of the day, every vaccination given in our community makes our community a little safer.”
That’s one issue seemingly addressed for the county’s COVID-19 rollout. But there are other complications.
Ever since vaccine first arrived in the community, the county has learned from week-to-week how much would be shipped. That means long-range scheduling is impossible.
That’s a feature of the national vaccine distribution, Harmon noted. “As a state, we are all struggling with that lack of information,” he said.
Harmon said the county typically hears on Monday or Tuesday how much vaccine will be shipped that week and the delivery arrives on Wednesday. This week presented a new wrinkle.
The COVID-19 vaccination process includes two shots. The second dose of the Pfizer vaccine happens 21 days after the first dose. The second dose of the Moderna vaccine happens 28 days after the first dose.
To date, the county has received approximately 5,300 allotments of the first dose of vaccine. This week’s shipment didn’t include any first doses, but it did include 1,900 second doses.
Harmon noted there is still enough first dose vaccine in the local system to continue clinics this week.
“We still hope that this week, 1,000 to 1,200 Eagle Country residents will receive their first dose,” he noted. But with no new first dose vaccine sent Jan. 13, vaccination clinics are not scheduling appointments for next week.
The term “digital divide” has been around for decades and it brings a new incarnation in the COVID-19 era.
Traditionally, the digital divide describes the gap between people who benefit from the computer-age technology and those who do not. Traditionally, socio-economics are the main contributing factor for the divide, but access can also be limited by age or language or other factors. With the local vaccination clinic sign-up so heavily geared toward online access, Harmon said outreach efforts are increasingly important.
“We are trying to implement a couple of different approaches that reach this age group so they don’t miss this opportunity,” he said.
Along with offering call-in scheduling, the county is urging family members to help with scheduling. Additionally, clinic locations are spread throughout the county.
“Last week Vail Health operated two clinics in Vail, and Eagle County operated one in Eagle, one in El Jebel and one in Edwards. This Wednesday’s clinic was in Gypsum,” said Harmon. “We want the clinics to be easily accessable.”
People in the 70 and older age group can continue to schedule clinic appointments after the vaccination clinic priority expands, but it will be easier for them to get into a clinic now, while they are the first priority group.
The current vaccination scheduling parameters for ages 70 and older defines residents as individuals with a permanent mailing or physical address within Eagle County, who will be present for 30 days past their first dose of vaccine to receive a second dose. People who own property in Eagle County and reside here for greater than 30 days at a time, and who will be present for 30 days past their first dose of the vaccine to receive a second dose, are also eligible.
Those receiving the vaccine are asked to sign off to confirm that they meet those parameters. Individuals should be prepared to show identification proving residency in the county at the time of their appointment.
“We are going to continue to focus on equity and speed to get vaccination out into our community,” Harmon said. “We are going to stay with this priority group until everyone who wants a vaccination gets a vaccination.”
Widlak stressed, however, that only people who register to receive the vaccine receive it. The strategy of showing up at a clinic at the end of the day — knowing that vaccine has a limited shelf life and hoping to receive a shot — simply won’t work.
“We are not going to waste any doses,” said Widlak. “We have enough people on a waiting list to make sure we use every single dose.”
Eagle County and Vail Health officials hope that by the end of January, all the people in the 70 and older group who voluntarily opt for vaccination will have been served. That means moving on to the next group — essential workers. The state of Colorado has issued the definitions of who is included in that group — identified as 1B.
As vaccination supply expands, so will the priority groups with the ultimate goal of universal vaccination by summer. Widlak noted that according to population estimates from the state demographer’s office, that means 45,456 people — the number of county residents age 16 and older. At that point, the county anticipates a whole new challenge.
“What we are hearing now is we have less vaccine than people who want it. That is a great place to be, rather than begging people to take it,” Widlak said.
As vaccine availability expands, county officials hope that public interest in vaccination remains high. If not, they want to have a strategy in place to spur participation.
“We will continue to tackle this community problem through community collaboration. If someone were to ask me what Eagle County’s superpower is, it is collaboration,” Harmon said. “We are going to continue to adapt as equitably as we can to whatever new guidelines that come from the state or our federal partners. The most important thing is for us to get the vaccine out into our community.”
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