Patients who received their COVID-19 vaccine at Dr. Moma Health and Wellness Clinic in Colorado Springs were still struggling with uncertainty Monday as state health officials continued their investigation into its vaccination process.
The state on Friday paused administration of the coronavirus vaccine at the clinic because of “irregularities in vaccine storage and handling” observed by county health officials earlier that day.
“We are particularly concerned about possible temperature excursions and lack of regular temperature monitoring as required for participation in the COVID-19 Vaccination Program,” Colorado State Joint Information Center spokesman Brian Spencer said in an email Monday.
Sylvienash Moma, who holds a doctorate in nursing practice degree, runs the clinic inside the Satellite Hotel in southeast Colorado Springs. She did not answer questions about the investigation from her office on Monday, citing the ongoing investigation.
Dr. Moma Health and Wellness Clinic was among more than 1,200 providers enrolled statewide to distribute coronavirus vaccines, Spencer said. Its services are largely aesthetic, including facials, laser hair removal, acne treatment, tattoo removal and Botox injections.
People who received their vaccines at the clinic said Monday they had lingering concerns about whether they would need to be revaccinated or how effective the vaccines they received will be.
“This is all new for everybody and you’re already injecting things into your body with controversy here and controversy there,” said Anne Marie Pacitto, who received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine at Dr. Moma Health and Wellness Clinic on March 31. “Then you find out you don’t know if it’s done right, what’s in your body or what the next step is.”
The clinic had administered nearly 4,000 vaccines before Friday and had been inoculating patients since March 1, state and El Paso County health officials previously told The Gazette. More than 7,000 appointments scheduled at the location through May 8 were canceled, according to the state health department.
Pacitto said she had made plans to travel next month and ensured she would be fully vaccinated before then, scheduling her second vaccine dose for April 29. But with her second dose appointment one of those canceled, it’s unclear how her travel plans will be affected, she said.
Denver residents Rachel and John Hayes traveled to Colorado Springs to get their first doses of the Moderna vaccine at the clinic on April 3.
“It was 85 degrees that day and now I’m concerned I don’t know what I got,” Rachel Hayes said. “… Devastating is the best way to describe it. You sit here thinking that you’ve done everything right, and wanting some sense of normalcy back, and then this happens.”
Both Pacitto and Hayes said they were concerned about how and when they would get additional vaccines — either restarting their vaccine series or receiving their second doses — as vaccine providers are not administering second doses to patients who have had their first doses administered at a different provider.
El Paso County Public Health said on its COVID-19 vaccine website "strongly recommends" patients receive both doses from the same provider, and that the second dose should be the same vaccine as the first dose.
"Doing so ensures that you are getting the same vaccine product for both doses at the right time," the website states.
Pacitto said she was hopeful El Paso County Public Health would help schedule additional or second doses.
“They may not be responsible for what happened at the clinic but I think they are responsible for helping fix it,” she said. “I’m hoping El Paso County can call me directly and say, ‘You can get your second dose of the Moderna vaccine on this date — which would be April 29 for me — at this location.
“I’m betting on the county health department to go to bat for us,” she said.
Health officials said they don’t believe patients vaccinated at the clinic should be concerned about worsened side effects from the vaccine, Spencer said. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is working with the CDC, Moderna and Pfizer to determine whether patients will need to re-initiate their vaccine series, he said.
El Paso County Public Health is also working with the state health department and the CDC “to investigate the viability of the vaccines, as well as recommendations and further guidance,” county department spokeswoman Michelle Hewitt said.
“Based on what is currently known, there are not any immediate health concerns for individuals who have been vaccinated at this clinic,” she said.
Providers participate in a formal enrollment process set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and must demonstrate capacity to meet all program requirements before they can be approved, Spencer said.
But it was unclear whether the clinic had adequate cold storage for the vaccines and did not use it, or whether state health officials had checked for adequate storage at the clinic ahead of approving the vaccine site.
“The type of equipment that was utilized is one component that is being examined as part of the investigation,” Hewitt said.
El Paso County Public Health does not conduct pre-approval inspections for the vaccine provider program, she said, because the department is not the “approving authority.”
When asked if the clinic could face suspensions or additional penalties if the investigation finds vaccine temperature requirements were broken, Spencer said the state health department would “make an appropriate determination” when the investigation is complete.
The clinic will not receive doses while the investigation is ongoing, Spencer said, but he could not say when it was likely to conclude.
People who receive their COVID-19 vaccines should continue following public health protocols in the days after inoculation, Spencer said. He encouraged people to continue wearing masks, practice social distancing and gather in small groups outdoors where it’s safer.
Hewitt offered guidance from the CDC about what to expect at a COVID-19 vaccination appointment at providers in El Paso County:
- When receiving a vaccine, patients and health care providers must wear masks covering their noses and mouths. Patients should stay six feet away from others while inside and in lines.
- Patients should receive a paper or electronic fact sheet with more information about the specific COVID-19 vaccine they are receiving.
- After getting a coronavirus vaccine, patients should be monitored on site for at least 15 minutes in case there are any adverse reactions.
- Patients should ask their vaccine providers about v-safe, a free smartphone-based tool that uses text messages and web surveys to provide personalized health check-ins after a person receives their COVID-19 vaccine.