EDITORIAL: Next time will be too late to know how to get vaccine to the poor

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No doubt managing the next pandemic will be much easier.

That’s cold comfort to millions of people in Colorado trying to navigate what seems like an endless torrent of frightening medical details, regulations, dire economics, illness, lost loved ones and now, muscling through confusion about vaccinations.

Even now, a year into the pandemic and with no clear end in sight, state, local and federal health officials have a better understanding that the nation has to mask up at the first sign of an outbreak, not months into one.

We know that cities, states and the nation must stockpile enough functioning, effective protective gear to actually prevent the spread of a pandemic. That certainly didn’t happen this time.

We know we must immediately fund the payrolls of businesses directly affected by a pandemic — and wait to fund businesses and organizations either unaffected or indirectly impacted by having to shut down places where people contact other people in a way that spreads disease.

We know that it’s not enough to just ask people to use good sense and avoid close contact with friends and family no matter how much they miss summer parties, get-togethers and a night on the town.

All of those delayed, absent or clumsy attempts only led to a second wave of the pandemic that has killed thousands here in Colorado.

State and local officials could already create a guidebook for better managing a pandemic while the world must wait for development of a vaccine or cure.

For the most part, Colorado has been fortunate in how state and local officials have managed the pandemic, wishing they knew then what we all know now. Colorado, despite setbacks and struggles, has kept ahead of the rest of the nation in slowing the spread of the virus.

Unfortunately, Colorado, and the rest of the nation, is now learning how to manage vaccine distribution on the fly.

In the big picture, it’s good fortune that Colorado is having to sort out how to equitably and immediately distribute vaccines to millions of residents under chaotic and confusing conditions.

But with so much at stake — lives, tens of thousands lives — Colorado and local governments must do more now to ensure hard-to-reach populations are inoculated as the vaccines roll out.

Currently, the state is passing out vaccinations only to those 70 and older. Soon, more recipients, including teachers and those over 65, will be eligible for vaccination.

While it appears that as many as 70 percent of eligible older people in parts of the Aurora region have had at least their first vaccination, the rate drops to a dismal 10 percent in parts of the region where mostly poorer, minority seniors live.

That’s dangerous for those people and the community.

Rather than set up an independent inoculation system, similar to COVID-19 testing sites, Colorado quickly integrated vaccine shipments to existing health care providers, such as Kaiser, Health One and other large systems.

The state has been slower in reaching out to a large population of immigrants, minorities and poorer seniors who live in a world far outside of convenient and steadfast health care. While efforts to incorporate STRIDE and Salud clinic systems are a good start, Tri-County Health, the state health department and even Aurora must find other ways to inform this hard-to-reach community that they need to vaccinate and help them make it happen.

For many, it’s not just a matter of getting an appointment. It can mean finding transportation, juggling job or childcare responsibilities, losing critical money from lost time at work or even understanding how the system works.

This isn’t a problem that affects just the elderly in these communities. As more people become eligible for the vaccine, health officials will almost certainly have to find ways to ensure these populations, often the most vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic, are equally included in the vaccination roll out.

Many of these people are especially susceptible to not only the economic effects of the pandemic, but they are generally at higher risk for illness and death caused by COVID-19.

Lessons learned for next time will be too late for too many. Tri-County, Aurora and the state need to master now what they need to do to save lives in the next few weeks and months, equitably.

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