COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — As the efforts continue statewide to increase the number of people vaccinated against COVID-19 many News 5 viewers have asked why various counties in Southern Colorado are taking different approaches to distribution.
The state health department did not mandate a specific and uniform distribution process. The common requirements counties must follow are to set priorities for which groups of people will receive vaccines the soonest given the scarcity of supply.
Front-line health care workers and employees and residents at nursing homes and senior care facilities are given the highest priority in Group 1A. Many of these individuals received their first dose of the two-shot treatment in late December and have since received the necessary second dose.
As of Friday morning, the El Paso County Department of Public Health and Environment reported some 25,208 doses of both the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines had been distributed. Of those, 5,486 doses were the second booster shots.
First responders, including firefighters, paramedics, and police officers, along with adults age 70 and older were given the next highest priority in Group 1B.
The state anticipates that it will not be able to expand vaccination to Group 2, which includes people ages 65 years and up and front-line workers in essential industries, until at least March. Widespread vaccination of all Coloradans is anticipated in June.
Initial doses of the vaccines were distributed to health care providers in late December. Local counties began expanding their vaccination distribution to Group 1B this week.
In Pueblo County, the health department held large-scale drive up vaccination clinics. Those who qualified were able to receive their first shots from the inside of their vehicles.
El Paso County opted to spread out its distribution through a group of partner health care agencies who all received approval from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to administer the vaccines.
Those health care providers include UCHealth, Centura Health, Kaiser Permanente, Matthews-Vu Medical Group, Optum & Mountain View Medical Group, and Peak Vista Community Health Centers.
"This truly is a force multiplier for us in our community and our efforts," explained Lisa Powell, Emergency Preparedness and Response Program Manager for El Paso County Public Health. "If the health department had to do this work solely, it would be very difficult indeed."
The vaccine is free. However, health care providers can charge up to a $23 fee for administering the shots. So, the health care providers may ask for health insurance information when you schedule an appointment. The Department of Health and Human Services will reimburse providers for the vaccination of uninsured patients.
Powell believes El Paso County's system is faster and fairer.
"We are actually providing vaccine in a faster and more equitable approach," she said.
You are not required to be a regular patient at one of the six health care partners to receive the vaccine. Powell also said county residency is not required.
However, Dr. Richard Vu of Matthews-Vu said it's been easier to schedule appointments with their regular patients because they already have contact information and medical histories on hand. His practice is currently working to put together a public clinic for Group 1B individuals who are not regular patients.
Both UCHealth and Centura Health are encouraging those in the 70 and up age group to use their patient enrollment websites to schedule an appointment. However, a spokesperson for UCHealth said that internet access may be a barrier for some patients. So, they're actively looking to hire 36 people to staff a phone bank so that they can also provide a vaccine hot-line.