Nearly a week after administering a landmark 100,000 COVID-19 vaccinations countywide, El Paso County Public Health officials said they remain focused on inoculating more members of the local 70-plus population as health workers continue vaccinating a wider range of eligible residents.
As of Wednesday, 113,464 doses had been dispensed, county data show — meaning 11% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.
About 53% of El Paso County's 70 and older population has been vaccinated, according to the data, more than the roughly 44% of 70-plus Coloradans statewide. The state’s goal is to vaccinate 70% of its 70 and older population by Sunday.
Local public health leaders said Wednesday it is still “critically important” that residents in this age group receive their vaccination for the sometimes deadly disease because they are at higher risk for severe illness and death if they contract it.
“If you’re really serious about the death rate, you need to get the 70s or older,” El Paso County Board of Public Health member Dr. Robert Bux said. “When you have people that don’t have as many risks and are younger, it’s just counterintuitive, what’s going on now, and needs to change. Otherwise, you’re going to have more deaths.”
The county and state are vaccinating eligible Coloradans in Phase 1A, Phase 1B.1 and Phase 1B.2 of the state’s vaccination rollout. This includes the highest- and moderate-risk health care workers and first responders, long-term care facility staff and residents, Coloradans 65 and older, preschool and K-12 educators and staff, and child care workers at licensed child care programs.
But local health leaders said they want to ensure the remainder of the county’s 70-plus population isn’t forgotten as they vaccinate higher numbers of eligible people under state guidance.
“We know we have an incredible tool here in the vaccine,” El Paso County Public Health Medical Director Dr. Robin Johnson said. “By opening up to the next phase, we continue to keep that fluid and the momentum of getting the vaccine out. But that does not change our focus from completing those prior phases.”
Health officials and countywide vaccine providers routinely discuss how to ensure eligible seniors who want the vaccine can receive it in a timely manner, Johnson said.
Countywide mass vaccination events — including three simultaneous pop-up vaccine equity clinics held over the weekend that vaccinated about 2,400 people — are one way public health workers have been able to vaccinate more residents, county Public Health Director Susan Wheelan said.
Public Health is also working to increase the number of vaccine providers locally and continues to advocate for increased supply from the state, she said.
“We don’t have any control over the supplies that are being sent to us, but that is something we are being persistent on.”
“The vaccine is essential and … part of the reason that there is this phased approach is it’s a precious limited commodity,” Johnson said. “We’re increasing that supply chain with a lot of advocacy from our leadership, but we also have some dependency on the manufacturers and the federal government. That patience in waiting your turn is also going to be essential for our community.”
The Colorado Springs Fire Department is providing mobile COVID-19 vaccinations to homebound residents who cannot leave their houses or stand in long lines to get vaccinated through its Operation House Call initiative, deployed Wednesday morning, Fire Chief Ted Collas said.
Public safety volunteers with the city helped identify homebound patients and registered them for the countywide program, he said.
“The virus has affected our entire community and we ... want to be a part of the community answer to this problem,” Collas said.
Two fire teams on Wednesday — one firefighter paramedic and one EMT each — administered a total of eight vaccines, provided by Matthews Vu, Collas said. The fire department hopes to work with Medical Reserve Corps volunteers to run the program in the future, he said.
Collas said the process to identify eligible patients and administer vaccines through the program will be slow, but he hopes to see it expand. Based on the time it takes to travel and administer the vaccine — health workers must monitor patients for 15 to 30 minutes after inoculation in case they have an adverse reaction — the program will likely be limited to six shots per team per day, he said.
“This is a very vulnerable segment of our population, a segment of our population that often doesn’t have a very loud voice,” he said. “Instead of waiting for them to raise up a flag and wave their hand and say, ‘Hey, don’t forget about me,’ we are scanning the landscape and looking for them. That kind of proactive work is just extremely exciting to do and it’s in the best interest of our community.”