Colorado’s health systems are turning to mass drive-up clinics to get more older people inoculated against the novel coronavirus, but efforts to ramp up vaccine distribution remain stymied by a national shortage of the shots.
The Biden administration is promising that more doses — a potential 16% increase in the state’s weekly allocations — are on the way. But that only will give Colorado about 12,000 more doses a week, meaning it’s not likely to significantly speed up vaccinations.
“It’s really is the single biggest challenge,” said Dr. Richard Zane, chief innovation officer for UCHealth. “We believe we could probably vaccinate 8,000 people in one day and 16,000 in a weekend, but the supply of vaccine is the single biggest challenge.”
Still, UCHealth is preparing to host one of the state’s largest COVID-19 vaccination clinics to date by administering shots to an expected 10,000 people this weekend in the parking lot of Denver’s Coors Field. The drive-thru clinic, open only to people with appointments, will run Saturday and Sunday, and follows a recent test run in which 1,000 people 70 and older received shots.
Denver’s National Jewish Health also is staging an appointment-only drive-thru vaccine clinic this weekend with a goal of dispensing 3,500 first and second doses to older Coloradans.
And those will just be the beginning. UCHealth is working with state health officials to replicate its Coors Field events, creating a “playbook” that other health systems and providers can use to stage their own mass-vaccination clinics across the state, Zane said.
Colorado’s vaccine rollout has hit stumbles along the way, often frustrating older Coloradans trying to get shots. Not only is vaccine supply severely limited, but the state often doesn’t receive but a few days’ notice of how many doses to expect, which officials and health systems have said makes it difficult to plan.
Carol Elston prepares a syringe with the Moderna vaccine for recipients coming in for their second dose at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center in Uptown on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.
“You don’t want to open up an event unless you know you have vaccine because you don’t want to cancel events,” said Michael Salem, chief executive officer of National Jewish.
Colorado received 5,380 more doses of COVID-19 vaccines than expected this week, giving the state enough to provide 81,460 people with their first doses. Earlier this week, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment anticipated receiving 76,080 doses.
The extra shots spurred National Jewish to expand its drive-up clinic for people 70 and older — also by appointment only — into a three day event. Instead, of vaccinating just 1,000 people on Saturday, the hospital will administer shots to 3,000 older Coloradans between Friday and Sunday. An additional 500 people will receive their second doses Saturday, according to the hospital.
Getting an appointment
Providers distributing COVID-19 vaccines have created hotlines for people without internet access to call to schedule appointments. The state is still in Phase 1 of vaccine distribution, so only health care workers, first responders, long-term care staff and residents, and people 70 and older can get the vaccines.Health systems are scheduling appointments for both patients and non-patients. Supply is still very limited so hospitals and other providers are creating waitlists.
The state has a hotline to help people who have trouble signing up for the vaccine: 877-268-2926 (CO-VAX-CO).
Here are the numbers to call to schedule an appointment with major health care providers:
Centura Health: 866-414-1562 or centura.org/vaccine
Denver Health: 303-436-7000 or denverhealth.org/covidvaccine
Kaiser Permanente: 1-844-951-1932 or kp.org/covidvaccine
UCHealth: 720-462-2255 or uchealth.org/covidvaccine
In the race to get more Coloradans vaccinated, the state is prioritizing a group that has experienced higher rates of fatalities from the disease COVID-19: people 70 and older. More information could be provided by the state in coming days about when essential workers and people 65 to 69 will be able to get their shots.
The state’s goal is to inoculate 70% of people 70 and older by the end of February. As of Tuesday, 155,888 people 70 and up had received the COVID-19 vaccine in Colorado — 28% of the roughly 562,000 people in that age group.
Zane, with UCHealth, said the health system has the capacity to vaccinate 30,000 people a week through all of its clinics — if only it were receiving enough doses.
“When we anticipate other vaccines coming into the market, specifically single-dose vaccines, that is when these drive-thru clinics and these large-scale clinics and pop-up clinics will be exceptionally effective,” he said.
The vaccines themselves can pose logistical challenges, notably Pfizer’s, which has to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures and be diluted with saline before it can be given to a person. Both Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines, which each require two doses, also have to be administered within hours after a vial is opened.
Security is an issue, too. For example, at HealthOne’s Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, the vaccines are kept in locked refrigerators and on a recent day, the hospital had two security guards help working the clinic.
Boxes of COVID-19 vaccine are kept in the freezer set under -30°C at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020.
There have been cases where people, including doctors, have shown up at the hospital saying they were there to get a COVID-19 vaccine but didn’t have an appointment, said Dr. Reginald Washington, chief medical officer of Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center and the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver.
Health systems and other providers also have to find physical space — either outside or inside — to administer the shots while maintaining social distancing requirements. Staffing can be a challenge as hospitals are carrying a bulk of the responsibility of inoculating those 70 and older, while also treating patients with the novel coronavirus.
“We are still in the middle of the pandemic,” Washington said. “We just couldn’t mobilize an army of people. … We at any given time don’t know how much vaccine we are going to receive. So you can’t plan ahead and start scheduling patients, staff or others.”
This content was originally published here.