As it turns out, vaccine isn’t like a driver license or, really, anything.
Before now, driver IDs and Colorado’s iconic green, mountain-silhouette license plates are about the only thing the Colorado and federal governments actually provide to just about every adult in the state.
Imagine the chaos if the 4.2 million people or so over 18 in the state had to be issued a new driver license in just a few months.
Now imagine that those 4.2 million people had to be categorized by age and need, drive to one of hundreds of hospitals, doctor offices, parking lots or pharmacies across the state and have the driver license injected into their arm by a trained medical professional.
Imagine the driver license had to come from a special factory in a far-away state and be kept frozen ridiculously below zero, pretty much until the day before you get it pumped into your arm.
All this should happen with a bag over your face with no one getting closer than 6 feet to anyone else, until it’s time to do the deed.
Donald Trump was in charge of making sure Colorado and every other state gets these nearly impossible deliveries on time.
Yup, it’s complicated.
It’s all led to a pandemic of hand-wringing and confusion among the public about when and where they can expect to be rolling up their sleeves.
Despite repeated tries to assure people, especially older ones, that despite the complexity, there’s a way to push through, get the shot, or be reassured it’s coming soon.
Brigadier General Scott Sherman, who leads Colorado’s vaccine task force, makes it clear, this is like nothing Colorado has ever done before. The logistics are vast and dynamic.
Essentially, the federal government notifies Colorado how much of the two viable vaccines it will receive in the upcoming week. The team then decides to whom and where across this 104,000-square-mile square-state the vaccines should be delivered. Some of the weekly quota of about 70,000 goes to regional storage and is transported to clinics or hospitals, other is shipped directly to large distribution points, officials say. Wherever the original shipment goes must have the required, complicated and pricey frozen storage facilities.
Then it gets thawed-out on a tight schedule during the week. The Pfizer vaccine is the hardest to work with, requiring storage at 158 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. It lasts only a few days after being thawed. The Moderna vaccine is relatively easier to handle but still requires more-standard freezer storage and must then be refrigerated after thawing. It can remain viable that way for a few weeks.
Long-term storage isn’t an issue, because if a vaccine distributor can’t inject what they get within three days of receipt, they have to give it back to the state, Sherman said.
All this means that, despite mind-boggling obstacles across a vastly diverse state, among dozens of different hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and others, Colorado gets just about every dose of vaccine they receive into an arm, every week, just as the next shipment starts to arrive.
If Colorado gets more vaccine — and they think they will as the Biden administration says they’re finding a way to move more out to states — Sherman and other state health officials say they can ramp up distribution among the current network.
More messiness? It takes two doses of vaccine to achieve optimum resistance to the coronavirus. So state officials have to essentially run two distribution systems at the same time.
Anticipating more than the average 70,000 or so doses of vaccine Colorado gets every week from the federal government, Colorado began injecting vaccine “reserved” for second doses.
Gov. Jared Polis said last week that if the expected increase doesn’t materialize, they’ll throttle back first doses to ensure those mostly elderly people currently being vaccinated get their second dose on time, about a month after the first.
If the behind-the-scenes, endlessly complicated system seems ripe for bedlam, it’s actually not, officials say. And those giving and receiving vaccines support that claim.
It involves dozens of people using military mentality to manage a logistics effort Colorado has never seen before.
Having been at this for a few weeks, the confusion is on the front end of the system, where older Colorado residents are just trying to figure out how to get their own shot.
Polis said the messiness there so far is OK. Rather than go all Soviet on the process and have people line up only at a few distribution centers, state officials agreed people will get vaccinated faster by feeding the vast network of ways and places people have been getting vaccines for years. It ensures doses don’t go unused for more than just a few days, and they aren’t spoiled and wasted.
So far, other than an isolated freezer problem early on, every dose has met an arm somewhere, almost all among the tiers of recipients they’re intended for.
The state health department and local health departments like Tri-County health each have websites and hotlines dedicated to telling people where to get on the list to get a vaccine.
In the Aurora area, four large providers are offering anyone age 70 and older to get on a list for the free shot. Kaiser Permanente, HealthOne hospital system, Centura Health hospital system and UCHealth systems all offer the free shot for anyone inside or out of their programs. State officials also recommend calling your own doctor for information and possibly get on their list.
Go to covid19.colorado.gov for links and numbers, or call the state hotline at 1-877-268-2926. Information there is available in multiple languages.
So, get on not just one list, get on all of them you can, Polis says. If your number comes up on the Kaiser list first, go for it.
If you just suck at doing anything online, each vaccine provider has a phone number, and you can get that by calling the state hotline. It takes time, but you do get on the list.
Is all this ideal? No, but it’s pretty amazing. Given the complexity of the problem, and that the former Trump Administration reportedly had little but loosey-goosey plans for the distribution of the vaccine, this has all been saved by a virtual nation of dedicated government and vaccine industry wonks.
So far, almost 400,000 Coloradans have gotten their first dose, and of those, about 90,000 have had their second dose.
With more than 4 million people still to vaccinate, we have a long way to go.
But just a year ago, this was just news about a virus outbreak in China and not a pandemic. In Colorado, the only thing most people got from the state were license plates, stickers and a new driver license every several years.
The end of the pandemic can’t come soon enough, but props to researchers, pharmaceutical companies and the army of government officials and medical workers who have made it so the end is in sight.
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