On Thursday afternoon at the 4H Event Center, business was brisk: A steady of customers was arriving to receive their initial Covid-19 vaccinations.
Ridgway resident Judy Yeo, 74, pronounced herself “delighted” that the moment had at last arrived. Yeo had signed up on the county’s website for a vaccine two weeks ago.
The vaccine “is not just for me,” Yeo emphasized as she headed for the center’s entrance. “It’s about protecting others in this community.”
And then she disappeared inside.
Another 74-year-old Ridgway resident, who declined to give her name, was right on Yeo’s heels. “I got a call last night” to come in, she said. She had registered for the vaccine only the day before.
Ouray resident Francie Tisdel was both a volunteer that day and a customer: she was about to receive her first inoculation against the Coronavirus.
Vaccines began in earnest this week in Ouray County, which has arranged for a couple of extra nurses to help give shots, set up an online form for those who would like to volunteer to help, and relocated its operations to the more-commodious Event Center from the public health center’s offices.
“We can spread things out here and accommodate more people,” Public Health Director Tanner Kingery said. “We can bring them inside, rather than having them sit in their cars. The small parking lot at the health center was icy, and getting too crowded. This will be our primary vaccine center.”
Going forward, the plan is for vaccines to be administered Tuesdays through Thursdays at the center.
“We’re closed Fridays,” Kingery said, “and Monday is our day to meet at Public Health as a group, and plan for the week.”
But as soon as more vaccines arrive, Kingery added, “we’ll give them.”
Therein, he said, lies the problem. Even though additional nurses are helping, and members of the community are stepping up to volunteer, there simply aren’t enough doses to go around. “We have a bunch of people who’ve already signed up for their vaccines,” he said. “We have way more people, probably 10-fold more people, than we have doses. It’s not like we’re behind. We’re waiting for vaccines. We could give 100 shots a day. We’re doing that today” (50 shots were administered Tuesday and 50 on Wednesday).
So far, Kingery added, “The state has been sending 100 vaccines a week. We have 100 doses stored up, but we’ll use those up next week on the people who need their second doses.”
The Moderna vaccine, which is being administered in Ouray County, requires two doses about four weeks apart.
“We’ve put in orders for 400 doses a week” from the state,” Kingery said, “but it feels like 100 doses is all we’re going to get. So we can’t front-load this too much. We’ll see what happens with the new Biden Administration. I’m hearing things might change and a lot more vaccines will be provided.” When that happens, “We’ll work Fridays and Saturdays and whatever it takes.”
County residents may be receiving second doses right now, but how much longer that continues is anybody’s guess. Eventually, second doses may have to be tabled for a while, so more people can receive first doses of the vaccine, and the community can achieve greater protection more quickly.
“Colorado’s weekly allocation of coronavirus vaccine could increase significantly — maybe even double for a time — under the Trump administration’s plans to make more supply immediately available by no longer withholding doses to ensure their second shots, Gov. Polis said Wednesday,” an article in the Denver Post pointed out. “But the specifics of when and how states will receive those additional doses still are unknown, in part because the administration will transfer power to President-elect Joe Biden next week.”
What does seem certain is that cases are likely to rise, given the presence of the new variant of the virus that is roughly 50 percent more transmissible. Scientists estimate that it will be the dominant strain of the virus in the U.S. by March, making it more important than ever that people get vaccinated as soon as possible (and keep wearing masks and social-distancing until they do).
Kingery estimated that about 80 percent of the roughly 5,000 residents of Ouray County will need to be vaccinated before herd immunity can be achieved.
“We’re hoping by the fall to have some type of community protection,” he said. “Maybe movie theaters will be open by then. Maybe restaurants will be a thing again.”
He emphasized that if you’ve signed up on the county’s website, “and you haven’t been called, it’s okay. We’ll call you. Folks have to hang tight and be patient. We’ve pretty much finished vaccinating first responders. Right now we’re vaccinating ages 70 and up. We’re starting at age 90, and we’re working our way back down.
Honestly, if the state would just give us what we need,” he added, “we could knock this out a lot sooner.”