Public Health turns focus to COVID 19 vaccinations

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by Marissa Lorenz
Grand County Public Health (GCPH) published two online contact forms on Wednesday for those residents wishing to register their interest in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine or for businesses wishing to arrange an organized vaccination schedule for employees.

The Moderna vaccine is currently being disbursed in Grand County by Public Health and Middle Park Health. It is being administered according to a phased schedule determined by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Governor’s office.

Because of the mandated schedule, the completion of the vaccine registration form is not the same as scheduling an appointment for the vaccine. The form itself explains the following.

“This registration form will not schedule you for an appointment to get the vaccine. This form will put your name on the list of interested persons in Grand County wanting to get the vaccine. Once this form is submitted, Grand County Public Health or a partnering local medical clinic will contact you when they have a vaccine ready for you. Depending on the phase of vaccine administration in which you qualify, you may be contacted relatively soon or it may take quite some time.”

The registration form was announced at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Grand County
Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), during which Public Health Director Brene Belew-LaDue updated Commissioners about the vaccination efforts in the county.

Belew-LaDue reported that, since the arrival of vaccine in Grand County on December 22, Public Health and Middle Park Health have been focusing on Phase 1a recipients, including frontline healthcare workers with likelihood of direct contact with COVID-19 patients, long-term care and assisted living staff and residents, and COVID-19 testing staff.

The Director noted that Public Health had received 300 doses, in two shipments, but that only 110 vaccines had been administered by the County agency. Middle Park Health has received another 400 doses, she said, though she was uncertain how many had been administered.

She described the logistics of the vaccine administration as complex, being restricted by staff availability, monitoring requirements, and the viability of the vaccine itself.

The vaccine is received in vials with 10 doses per vial and all vaccine must be used within six hours of opening the vial, explained Belew-LaDue. Vaccine recipients must remain in the office for another 15 minutes, maintaining social distance, in case of severe reactions, though Belew-LaDue indicates that there have been no anaphylactic responses to date.

Therefore, the agency is making appointments in groups of 10 and stresses the importance of patients showing up for their appointments. “Our goal is to not throw away any vaccine,” stressed the Public Health Director.

These requirements mean that the vaccine “roll-out” is taking some time, an issue that seems to be facing communities across the country. Belew-LaDue indicated that Grand County was starting to focus on qualified recipients in the first part of Phase 1b. This includes healthcare workers with lower risk of contact with COVID-19 patients; first responders, such as firefighters and law enforcement; and people age 70 and older.

However, she noted that there are 772 first-responders in Grand County. The goal is to vaccinate all of those individuals who choose to be vaccinated by January 15.

On trying to estimate the number of county residents who are 70 and older, Belew-LaDue referred to a 2018 community health assessment that counted about 2,500 or 16% of residents in the 65-plus age group.

Once all those wishing vaccination from these groups have been vaccinated, Grand County will start to administer to the second group in Phase 1b, which focuses on frontline essential workers in education, grocery, postal service, and public transit but also includes essential officials from state government and frontline journalists.

Public Health anticipates starting to vaccinate Phase 2 recipients by spring, including other essential workers, local government officials, people age 65-69, and those 16-65 who are immunocompromised or have other increased health risks.
The general public can expect to start receiving vaccine by summer.

All individuals receiving the Moderna vaccine are advised to have a second dose 28 days after the first to receive the greatest benefits of inoculation. But patients are warned that side-effects are most prominent after the second dose, manifesting as fatigue and flu-like symptoms within one or two days of receiving the vaccine and lasting for a couple of days.

Even without the vaccine, however, Grand County has seen a marked decline in case rate and positivity since those numbers spiked in late November. As of Wednesday, January 6, there are no active outbreaks of COVID-19 in the county.

The Grand County COVID-19 dashboard reported a two-week case count of 79 with a case rate of 509 (per 100,000) and a positivity rate of 9.93%. Grand County’s peak numbers were reported on November 25, and noted a two-week case count of 196 and a case rate of 1,264.

These numbers remain important, according to Grand County Medical Director Darcy Selenke, because the State continues to use these parameters to determine “level of protection” and mitigation steps, such as restaurant seating restrictions and curfews. And while Grand County is operating in a Phase Orange state, the case rate and two-week case count continues to place the community in the red zone of those parameters.

Not meeting all Phase Orange parameters means that the county still cannot qualify to apply to the State for the so-called 5-Star certification program that would permit qualifying businesses to operate under less-restrictive mandates,
if they participate in enhanced monitoring, guidance, and reporting.

For more information on COVID-19 in Grand County, go to co.grand.co.us/COVID. To learn more about the Moderna vaccine and possible reactions, go to www. cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/info-by-product/moderna/reactogenicity.html. And to register interest in receiving the Moderna vaccine in Grand County, go to co.grand.co/vaccine.