If you find the process by which residents of La Plata County receive notifications about the COVID-19 vaccine confusing, you’re not alone.
“I think the reason it’s complicated to begin with is that there are a lot of different vaccine providers,” said Brian Devine, deputy incident commander for COVID-19 at San Juan Basin Public Health.
People are encouraged to sign up for notifications from SJBPH at sjbpublichealth.org/coronavirus, but individual health care providers may also send out separate notifications to patients with whom they have a history.
“The state has assigned the general public age 70 and older primarily to hospitals – although that’s a very large group of people, so pharmacies, other health care providers, federally qualified health centers, they’re all assisting hospitals with that population. And the hospitals get about 50% of the doses made available by the state,” Devine said. “It’s a very large group of people, and it’s a very large group of providers to accommodate them. That’s the first reason that some people are probably finding it confusing.”
San Juan Basin Public Health’s notification system acts as a centralized means of receiving news about COVID-19 vaccine availability and eligibility, but it does not directly set up appointments for patients.
“What we do is send a weekly notification email to anybody who has signed up for it with all of the available appointments for the week,” Devine said. “And, in fact, we include providers that may not have available appointments for the week because we’re always moving vaccine around in order to maximize the number of available appointments.”
The email consolidates information about who is eligible for the vaccine, how much of it has been made available to La Plata and Archuleta counties, and how to make appointments at the enrolled providers that it lists. If a patient is eligible, they must then contact one of those providers directly to make an appointment.
“We think the centralized notification system that we provide is a good one-stop shop for vaccine eligibility information and links to appointments,” he said.
On Monday, the Colorado launched a vaccine hotline at 1-877-CO VAX CO (1-877-268-2926). According to a news release from the state, staff members at the call center are trained to answer COVID-19 vaccine-related questions, provide information about vaccine providers across the state and give general information about COVID-19 in multiple languages.
The hotline can take information for people who don’t have access to the internet or are not comfortable using it to receive notifications, Devine said. Every health care provider administering the vaccine is also required to provide a phone number, which SJBPH makes available.
SJBPH can also assist in taking information on people seeking the vaccine by phone, he said. The health department’s number is 247-5702 in La Plata County and 264-2409 in Archuleta County.
The available appointments are getting filled very quickly, Devine said. For the last two weeks, every appointment slot listed in SJBPH’s notification email has been claimed within an hour of notifications being sent out. Appointments are first come, first served among eligible patients. He said speed at which the appointments are claimed will lighten as vaccine supply improves.
“It’s good that the community is interested in getting vaccinated as quickly as possible,” he said, because it hastens the process of immunizing the community and ensures none of the vaccine is going to waste.
Distributing vaccinesSJBPH is the official enrolled provider – meaning the vaccine has been allocated to it to vaccinate eligible patients under its medical license and insurance – for the volunteer-based effort at the La Plata County Fairgrounds every Saturday. SJBPH will also provide the vaccines with its own staff members once it has the staff capacity to do so, he said.
Under the current phase of COVID-19 vaccine distribution (1B.1), SJBPH and other local public health agencies throughout the state have been assigned 10% of the vaccines available and tasked with inoculating moderate-risk health care workers and first responders. SJBPH has been doing this through the Animas Surgical Hospital and Pagosa Springs Medical Center, which have volunteered to assist with that responsibility, Devine said.
La Plata and Archuleta counties are on pace for the schedule announced by Gov. Jared Polis on Friday. People in the 65-to-69 age category as well as teachers, child care providers and student-facing support staff members in schools will become eligible for the vaccine Feb. 8. Appointments for the general population will work the same as they are currently, Devine said, while school districts will work directly with providers and teachers will make appointments through the districts.
“One thing we’ve learned in this pandemic is to stay flexible and expect changes,” he said.
He noted that Friday was the first day SJBPH had received a preview of what future supply and eligibility looks like from the state – a good sign of things to come. He said the state’s schedule is subject to change, especially if and when a vaccine from a third developer is approved in the coming months and supply increases as a result.