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COVID-19 vaccine is coming … none too soon for locals

Local agencies could get doses within a week as case counts, deaths continue to rise

by Mark Craddock
OUR WORLD — As giddy as a child awaiting a holiday gift, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis stood watch Tuesday at the shipping entrance of a CDPHE laboratory in Denver in anticipation of a very special delivery.
Moments later, he pushed the big red button to open the loading-dock door.

“It’s the Pfizer vaccine arriving here in Colorado to end the pandemic!” Polis called out as a FedEx delivery worker wheeled up the cardboard box.
The delivery was part of a shipment of 46,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to arrive in Colorado that morning, to be distributed across the state.

But for Huerfano and Las Animas counties, the wait continues.

The Pfizer vaccine requires storage in a deep-freeze environment, complicating roll-out in rural parts of the state.

Colorado is slated to receive Moderna’s vaccine next week, pending Food and Drug Administration approval. That vaccine requires just simple refrigeration, so it is the vaccine which will be first disseminated to more rural parts of the state, according to the Colorado Emergency Operations Center.
The Moderna vaccine was “highly effective” in a clinical trial and carried no serious safety concerns, according to a detailed review by the FDA published Tuesday. The FDA is meeting today to consider Moderna’s request for a special use authorization. Approval could come as early as tomorrow.

If approved, Moderna stands ready to quickly ship 6 million doses of the vaccine across the country; 95,600 of which are destined for Colorado and 200 of which will end up at the Las Animas Huerfano Counties District Health Department (LAHCDHD) – 100 doses for each county.

In New Mexico, 17,550 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived Monday at the state department of health’s warehouse in Albuquerque, for distribution to 18 hospitals throughout the state. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported, however, that 75 vaccine doses bound for Clayton had to be discarded because of potential overheating during delivery. There is no word yet from the New Mexico Department of Health on how many doses are destined for Colfax County.

Plans Changing ‘By the Minute’
In Huerfano and Las Animas counties, details of the vaccine’s roll-out are being hashed out amid a shifting landscape. Much is still based on assumption – for instance, the assumption the Moderna vaccine will get FDA approval this week — and all is subject to change.
“As you know, as of right now, everything is fluid,” local health department director Kim Gonzales said last Friday. “Things change by the minute.”

Here’s what is known as of press time Wednesday:
Gonzales said her agency expects to receive the 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine when available, with a second shipment to come within a few weeks, meaning 200 people can be vaccinated right away. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, administered about a month apart.

She said her office is working with first-responder agencies to get an idea of how many personnel in each county “want to be vaccinated.”

Gonzales said hospitals and nursing homes have placed vaccine orders independent of the public health agencies. The Veterans Community Living Center at Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center and the Trinidad Inn Nursing Home have contracted with retail pharmacies, which will receive the vaccines, bring it to the facilities, and vaccinate the residents and staff at the same time.

She said Trinidad’s Mt. San Rafael Hospital will be receiving 300 doses initially, then another 300 doses “within a couple weeks.”

SPRHC spokesperson Trapper Collova said Tuesday that the facility’s plans are coming together quickly.
“We have no exact date yet, but very soon we will receive vaccines,” he said. “First up will be Moderna, with all staff and residents of the veterans living center vaccinated by CVS on site.”

“A Pfizer batch will follow shortly and will go to all SPRHC personnel as well as high-risk members of the public. Both are happening quickly but we do not have a conformed quantity or date.”

Local Cases, Deaths,Continue to Rise
The vaccine roll-out will come none too soon for local counties, which have seen case counts and death rates rise unabated since late October.

Since Dec. 8, Las Animas County has seen 39 new cases of COVID-19 and Huerfano County’s case count has grown by 27. Public health reported that, as of Dec. 14, Huerfano County has a total case count of 256 with 72 active cases and nine deaths. Las Animas County has a total case count of 431, with 115 active cases and three deaths.

There is some question as to the actual number of COVID-19 deaths in Huerfano County. In her Dec. 14 report, Gonzales reported nine deaths, the same as early last week’s figure. However, the CDPHE reports 11 deaths in Huerfano County, and the SPRHC reported the death of another Veterans Community Living Center resident late last week, lending credence to the state number.

When contacted for comment on the discrepancy Monday night, Gonzales wrote, “When I pulled up the report in our database, we still only showed nine at the time, so that is what we reported on. Once that is updated we will push the updated figures.”

As of Wednesday morning, there has been no update.
According to Collova, the total staff infections to date at SPRHC stand at 50, with 10 active cases.
The New Mexico Department of Health reported total COVID-19 cases in Colfax County are 407, with eight deaths and 56 recovered.

Both Las Animas and Huerfano counties remain in the “Red — extreme risk” on the state’s COVID-19 dial.
Huerfano County’s two-week cumulative incidence has dropped to 846.2 per 100,000 people. The county’s two-week average positivity is 3.4% and its hospitalization rates remain in the yellow.
Las Animas County’s two-week cumulative incidence rate is 703.8, with an average positivity of 2.8% and hospitalizations still trending in the red.

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