Following confusion and frustration this week over the COVID-19 vaccine rollout to seniors in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis held a news conference Wednesday to talk about how residents ages 70 and up can try to gain access.
Polis said hospitals are launching new online portals for seniors to get the vaccine, but supplies are limited and many providers are randomly sending out invites.
Polis also defended his decision to announce the start of vaccinations for this age group last week before many health care providers were ready to offer it.
“There’s two ways to approach this,” he said. “One would be to wait until everything is perfect, until web portals are set up and the systems are in place and you don’t announce anything until then.”
“The other way is the path I think makes sense to save lives,” he continued. “Which is of course more chaotic because you’re building the car while you’re driving it, but you’re getting the vaccine into the arms of people 70 and up.”
Polis added he thinks a delay would have cost lives.
The state also announced a less ambitious timeline for vaccinating this age group, which is considered most at risk of dying from the virus.
Last week, Polis estimated it would take about four to five weeks. The new timeline has the vaccines being administered to people 70 and up through Feb. 28.
Teachers and other essential frontline workers are now estimated to start getting access to the vaccine in early March.
So how can seniors get scheduled?
Polis says they should start by reaching out to their health care providers, and hospitals will administer half of the overall doses to seniors.
Pharmacies and local public health departments are also expected to offer appointments at some point in the coming days.
Health care providers take different approaches
For now, residents have several options for trying to get a vaccine, though competition is stiff.
UCHealth is providing vaccinations to a “limited number” of seniors as supply increases.
“At this point, we usually do not have much advance notice of how many vaccines we will receive or when, so it’s not possible to say how many doses we might have available in the upcoming weeks,” said Kelly Tracer, a UCHealth spokeswoman. “As shipments arrive and we find out how many we’ll be able to provide in the following days, we then invite additional people to schedule appointments.”
The hospital system is communicating primarily with existing patients through email and its online medical records portal, Tracer said.
Banner Health is taking a similar approach with its Northern Colorado patients. According to a hospital spokeswoman, the system plans to expand its vaccine supply for residents 70 years and older “beginning next week” and “anticipates sharing more details on how to schedule appointments in the coming days.”
Kaiser Permanente Colorado has also begun offering vaccines to senior patients, according to recent email communication with members. (Kaiser is the healthcare provider for most KUNC employees).
“As vaccine supply allows, you’ll be notified when to schedule your COVID-19 vaccine appointment,” the email states. “A vaccination effort of this size is new for all of us. We appreciate your patience and we’ll act as quickly as possible to get you vaccinated.”
Colorado’s website on vaccinations also has information about other healthcare providers offering vaccines to residents who are 70 and older.
Meanwhile, local health departments have been swamped with phone calls and emails from seniors looking to get their first doses.
Eagle County Public Health launched its first public clinics for local seniors this week, causing a mad dash for residents to book one of the more than 500 slots.
Reservations filled up “within minutes,” according to Kris Widlak, the county’s communications director. The county is now transferring to a new notification system to reduce panic and competition as more vaccine supply arrives.
“We'll add them to a list and then depending on what vaccine availability comes in, we will send an announcement to the list and say, ‘We have a space for you, pick from these times and then we'll keep going,’” Widlak said.
Both Boulder and Larimer counties have established similar systems for residents to get notified when vaccine supply is available to them. Neither county has enough supply to host public vaccine clinics yet.
Weld County’s health department did not return a request for comment about plans for offering senior residents vaccines through public clinics.