The vaccine rollout is currently in phase 1B, for those 70 and older and high risk healthcare workers. The general public can expect to be eligible for the vaccine by the summer. (Planet file photo)

At Tuesday evening’s COVID Community Forum via Zoom, public health officials discussed the continued roll out of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in San Miguel County, before opening up the forum to questions from community members. The vaccines will be administered according to three phases as shipments arrive, with the current first phase prioritizing high risk health care workers and those 70 years of age and older. By spring, the county aims to offer vaccines to those in phase two, higher risk individuals and other essential workers; and by summer, the vaccine will be available to the general public.

Currently, the county and Telluride Regional Medical Center are receiving 100 shipments of the vaccine each a week, a number dictated at the state level. Local officials are advocating for increased numbers of vaccines to be sent to the county.

“We would like to receive way more because we feel we have the ability to give more,” noted Dr. Sharon Grundy at the Tuesday evening forum. “So we have a bit of a stumbling block right now with just making sure that the number of doses getting sent to San Miguel County are consistent. We are communicating with them on a daily basis to please send more, because we would like to move through this as quickly as possible.”

Full-time residents who are regular patients in the county can expect to be contacted when they are eligible to receive the vaccine. Part-time residents were encouraged to seek the vaccine in their home counties.

“If we are your clinic that you regularly go to, get a physical exam at or have established with a provider, you should pop up in the database,” said Grundy, noting that those who are worried about being contacted can sign up through the county’s website. “We’re really asking that you not call the med center or public health to check to see if you’re on the list.”

While the vaccines currently approved by the FDA have shown no acute symptoms, health officials noted that those receiving the vaccine may experience mild symptoms as a result of the immune system “revving up” in response to the vaccine. These symptoms, which are generally mild to moderate and can occur one to two days after receiving the vaccine, can include fever, chill, fatigue, headache, muscle aches and joint pain, according to Grundy.

While the vaccine cannot cause COVID-19, it is possible that a recently vaccinated person had the virus dormant in their system prior to receiving the vaccine, or that the virus was contracted after receiving the vaccine but before the immune system produced antibodies. For these reasons, health officials noted that if a recently vaccinated person develops a cough, shortness of breath, runny nose, a sore throat or loss of taste or smell, it is still prudent to test for COVID-19.

While the vaccine has proven highly effective at preventing the disease, 90 percent or more, whether or not the vaccine prevents infection by the virus entirely is still uncertain. For this reason, health officials still urge adherence to the five commitments even among those who have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, especially when visiting someone belonging to a high-risk group.

“Even once you get your two doses, you’re still going to have to watch socializing with people who haven’t been vaccinated or who haven’t recently had COVID-19,” Grundy emphasized. “So if you decide to go visit Grandma, and she hasn't been vaccinated, you could possibly give her the virus. We don’t know quite yet. We don’t know if it actually prevents the full infection. What we do know is it prevents hospitalizations, severe disease and symptoms.”

San Miguel County Public Health Director Grace Franklin noted that while the roll out is taking place as quickly as possible, the situation is fluid and changes may occur. She thanked the public for understanding and for practicing kindness in the face of the challenging and potentially frustrating situation.

“It feels like a lot of hurry up and wait, especially for the public,” Franklin acknowledged. “Thank you for your understanding and your patience. This process has been moving slowly and we want to get it right the first time.”