When a client of Janel Ferguson’s knew of a way her elderly father could receive a COVID-19 vaccine in the comfort of his own home, it was a solution to a problem they’d been trying to solve.
At 97 years old, her father, Chalmer Ferguson, isn’t as mobile as he once was. Fighting macular degeneration in one eye, glaucoma in the other, and battling health issues with his legs that limit his driving and his ability to stand for extended periods of time, the Fergusons weren’t sure how he was going to receive his doctor-recommended vaccine.
But Janel Ferguson’s client helped get them in touch with the Colorado Springs Fire Department’s homebound vaccination program, Operation House Call, and Chalmer Ferguson received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in late April.
“This helped us so much,” Janel Ferguson said from her father’s home in northeast Colorado Springs, where he’s lived for 66 years. “We were trying to figure out how we were going to go to clinics where they were vaccinating people or doing drive-through vaccinations. But this was much more convenient, especially for the elderly who have mobility issues.”
Homebound missions like these are among collaborative efforts the state, local public health departments, case management agencies, and partners like the Colorado Springs Fire Department and American Medical Response are taking to vaccinate as many Coloradans against the disease as possible, state health officials said.
The vaccine is the most powerful tool that exists to fight the virus, health leaders have said, and Colorado is working to inoculate 75% of eligible residents with at least one dose by July 4.
“Meeting Coloradans with complex medical needs where they are is important. Our goal is to get all eligible Coloradans vaccinated as quickly as possible to put an end to the crisis caused by this pandemic,” a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spokesperson said in an email.
American Medical Response has teamed up with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Equity Outreach Teams to conduct homebound vaccinations — bridging gaps in vaccine accessibility, said Theresa Hall and Christopher Williams, regional directors with the ambulance service who helped implement the program across the state.
“We help cover that last mile, recognizing that not everyone can access a community vaccination site,” Hall said.
American Medical Response and state Public Health have administered COVID-19 vaccine to more than 15,000 Coloradans in underserved populations so far via homebound vaccinations, targeted clinics and community vaccination sites, Hall said.
The ambulance service began working with the state to reach homebound Coloradans in April, including residents of El Paso, Denver, Boulder and Broomfield counties, Williams said. Homebound vaccinations are anticipated to start in areas of Adams, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties soon, according to state health officials.
“Pharmacists and brick-and-mortar health care facilities, they’re very good at what they do in that environment,” said Mark Davidson, a director at Global Medical Response, American Medical Response’s parent company. “But our field is uniquely positioned to be able to go into homes, be able to go into congregate living facilities, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and really make that patient contact.”
Being able to be at home in his own environment helped Chalmer Ferguson relax, he said.
“It was better to do it here than at a doctor’s office. If it’s a question of everyone getting a vaccine and they have to do it through a home visit, then I recommend it,” he said. “I think it’s probably the safest thing they can do for themselves.”
American Medical Response teams could also start hosting more vaccine clinics for younger people as eligibility continues to expand and as health care leaders build on current programs, Williams said.
“It’s a really rewarding time and it’s nice to kind of be on the other side, to see an end in sight,” Williams said. “There’s so much that’s going to be able to be learned through this process and to take home and implement and make everything better.”
Coloradans unable to physically visit a community-based vaccine site can register for in-home appointments through the state’s vaccine hotline at 1-877-268-2926. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and in multiple languages.
Coloradans can also find a vaccine provider online at covid19.colorado.gov/vaccine/where-you-can-get-vaccinated.