DENVER (CBS4) - The final big vaccine site among six on Colorado's Front Range opened Thursday as the next phase of COVID vaccination was about to open to all Coloradans 16 and up. As a new group of people began to wonder how to sign up for vaccines, others were holding off, showing there's still convincing to do to ensure Colorado can reach a level of vaccination good enough to reach herd immunity.
"I don't know, it's like I said, I'm still undecided," said 26 year old Ashley Reese as she visited downtown Denver this week.
"So it's not like my priority, but I'm not opposed to getting it," said 23-year-old Shelby Stucky, who was visiting town to look for an apartment as she planned to move to Colorado from Kansas.
Others were waiting and trying to figure out a way to get the vaccine.
"I've been trying and trying because I work with dialysis patients in clinics and I just haven't been able to get on a list," said 35-year-old Carla Villa.
This week, people seeking a vaccination have been trying to sign up for the Ball Arena site as it gets added to the list of providers, but many reported problems including a lack of confirmation when booking and no appointments.
"We're sorry all available appointments have been taken. Please check back later to schedule your vaccination appointments,"" read the website for the provider partner, True Care 24, a California based company that was brought in to run the clinic. A company spokesman Anoop Grover said the website was updated late Wednesday to reflect the reasons why there were no appointments available, saying only Thursday and Friday bookings were being allowed because appointments for next week will not be made available until the company is told what its allotment will be. That is expected Friday.
There are now over 1,000 vaccine providers in the state as doses rise. Providers around the state are still working to figure out how to get vaccines to the most at-risk populations. Sunrise Community Health is one of those. Over 60% of the people served by the clinics in Weld and Larimer County are members of the LatinX community and communities of color.
"Our goal is to vaccinate about 20,000 people a month," said Sunrise CEO Mitzi Moran. "We are strategically trying to reach people who are uninsured or are underinsured. That population has been the hardest hit and the most vulnerable during this pandemic."
Last week, the clinics vaccinated members of the Latin X community at three times the rate of the statewide average. Sunrise already has six busy clinics and knows people can get to them in Greeley, Evans and Loveland because they are all on mass transit lines. They are looking at further changes to ensure working people can get the vaccines.
"Many of our patients can't take off during the day to get to a vaccine clinic. Many of them don't have the ability to stay on their phone and sign up for multiple different vaccine clinics waiting for the first email to come so they can grab that appointment right. Their jobs don't allow them to be that connected to a phone or to a computer."
But they know there's demand.
"We have 14,000 people that have signed up on our waiting list to get a vaccine. Our vaccine clinics are completely full and they fill quickly. And our phones are ringing off the hook. So there are people -- nand I would say the majority of people want this vaccine," said Moran.
The next challenge will be convincing healthy, younger people who have a lower risk of severe illness to get the vaccine. Colorado needs to have those people buy into the idea to reach herd immunity.
"I do think we struggle with them thinking 'Well, I'm not going to get COVID, or if I get it, it won't be as severe so I don't need to get the vaccine etcetera,'" Moran explained. "The 16, 17 and 18 year olds -- how can we get them vaccinated as soon as possible, that way graduation might be a little bit safer. If you're holding prom it might be a little bit safer. We can target that group now so in the fall when the younger ages are eligible for the vaccine, we can spend all our energy and efforts there."
Sunrise also tries to take vaccines to people with mobile clinics. News that there are production problems with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that will mean 15 million doses nationwide will not be sent out has the potential to be a setback in those efforts.
"Think about your homeless population, migrant seasonal farm workers, that's what we started to think about with J&J because we didn't think we didn't think we would get very large amounts," said Moran.
The single dose vaccine may be best used among those groups due to difficulty in bringing some back for a second shot. Current shipments of the vaccine are produced at a facility overseas and will not be affected.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a statement to CBS4 late Wednesday, "Our decisions on Colorado's phasing are based on the number of vaccines already allocated to us by the federal government, which have been primarily Pfizer and Moderna. The doses being affected have not yet been allocated as they were still being manufactured." That means none have been counted on yet.
Sunrise is glad to have new resources with funding from the American Rescue Plan. $6 billion was provided for community health centers across the country. The clinics are getting $8.6 million in additional funding that Moran says will be put to good use.
"This funding acknowledges that our patients matter in this pandemic."
The clinics plan to expand vaccinations, testing and treatment, deliver more preventive and primary health care services for people at higher risk for COVID-19 and expand operational capacity during the pandemic and beyond.
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