vaccine

San Miguel County Public Health Director refrigerates a shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo courtesy of San Miguel County)

The rollout of the Moderna COVID-19 in San Miguel County has gone exceedingly well, by all accounts. The county public health department and Telluride Regional Medical Center are receiving 100 doses each per week in administering the 200 total doses quickly and efficiently in vaccinating 379 people, according to numbers on the county’s COVID-19 website Thursday afternoon.

If the state, which has been allocating doses based on population density, was able to send more out to the box canyon, there’s no doubt that medical officials would be able to use them, county public health director Grace Franklin explained during Wednesday’s virtual Board of County Commissioners meeting, but that’s not necessarily up to her.

“Allocation, it’s been an interesting process. Every two weeks so far they have asked us to fill out a survey saying how many vaccines you have on hand, how many vaccines can you administer in a 10-14 day timeframe and then what’s your process been like,” she said. “It’s not actually like we want 100 this week or 200 this week. They ask us more general questions, then they send us what they’re willing to give us. In each of those surveys we made it very clear, saying we drew blood with 5,500 people in less than three weeks. We have all these things in place and can easily scale up or scale down, give us what you got, and we get 100.

“At this point it’s definitely a limited supply. I think that they received 34,000 vaccine doses last week. I anticipate it to increase, but at this point, we’re in this weird limbo that we don’t get to determine that. But if we can get 1,000, we would vaccinate 1,000 people in a week easily.”

The blood draws Franklin referred to were part of the free communitywide antibody tests offered by United Biomedical Inc., a company that’s co-owned by local couple Lou Reese and Mei Mei Hu, in partnership with the county in March. The initial plan was to conduct two rounds of blood draws, including the second after a 14-day quarantine period, but the county announced the second round was delayed indefinitely in June.

Still, that process, paired with the county’s smaller population, has benefitted the vaccine rollout. 

“One of the other things that we’re all discovering around the country right now is smaller, more rural areas, like ours that have the practice of the antibody test, which turns out was incredibly valuable process that we went through early on that prepared us for this, little did we know, are much more efficient at getting this vaccine into peoples’ arms,” Commissioner Hilary Cooper said. “ … It is very difficult to get access to the vaccines when you live in a city on a national scale right now. Obviously, it is not very difficult at all for our people. I’ve talked to people who were super surprised that they were vaccinated already. They had no idea. They thought they were going to be way down the line because it was going to take a while.”

Franklin explained that there are 39 health care workers and emergency responders who have yet to receive the first dose of the vaccine under the initial phase of the state’s plan, for various reasons.

“You’re spot on,” she said in response to Cooper’s comment. “We’ve shown this year that we can do mass medical programs and implement it in a quick matter. Public health, too, our system is set up to do mass vaccinations as well, which we succeeded with our flu clinics, in previous years indoors, this year outdoors. We are nimble and have a strong emergency operation center, so we can easily have a large-scale approach to this as soon as it’s available.”

Last week, the state announced that full-time residents 70 years of age or older would be eligible to receive the vaccine during the first phase.

Public health and the county’s two medical centers, as well as Montrose County Department of Public Health, is currently receiving information from and contacting residents who are interested in the vaccine. People can also pre-register at bit.ly/smcvaccine. If internet access is unavailable, call Dawn Ibis, registry coordinator for vaccine distribution, at 970-708-8670. The county also added vaccine information to its COVID website at covid-19-sanmiguelco.hub.arcgis.com.

“If you let us know, there’s no wrong door, you can’t overdo it. If you let us know, we’ll get to you,” Franklin said. “Along those lines, too, we recognize the blurred lines of the West End between the two counties, Montrose and San Miguel, and the fact the people live such intertwined lives there. We’ve been working with Montrose public health to try to figure out how to best serve folks in that community. They’re going to be ready to do a clinic in Nucla-Naturita next week.”

She added that only two people who signed up for a vaccine didn’t show. If that’s the case, the county has a “very robust list” that they go down.

“We have much more than just the people we have scheduled on our list to reach out to,” she said.

The state’s focus is completing the first phase before opening it up to others in the second phase, including hospitality and food service workers, which could take several months still.

“I’d say Phase II is pretty far away as well. They’re projecting spring,” Franklin said. “If people want to (sign up), we will collect that information. We will not say no, but I also don’t want to give them false hope if they sign up today that we’ll get to them early February.”

Though the new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus, B117, has been reported in the state, officials have claimed the Moderna vaccine combats it.

Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, which contains five doses, Moderna’s has 10 and has a longer shelf live.

“Once you puncture that vial you have six hours, as long as it’s properly stored, which we do, in order to get the vaccines into arms. We have some pretty good flexibility there,” Franklin said.