County health care workers receive Grand’s first COVID-19 vaccines
After a long, difficult year on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, several of Grand County’s health care professionals received an early holiday gift in the form of the Moderna vaccine.
On Tuesday, Grand County Public Health and Middle Park Health received shipments of the Moderna vaccine earlier than expected, leading to the first inoculations Wednesday.
Inside the Denver Health Alpine Clinic in Fraser, Grand County Public Health Director Brene Belew-LaDue gave the first vaccine to GCPH Medical Director Darcy Selenke.
“I’m honored,” Selenke said. “It means we’re one step closer to getting back to the world we want to live in again and back to our regular pattern.”
A line of staff from Denver Health waited, socially distanced and masked, for their shots while Belew-LaDue gave Selenke her vaccine. As soon as the needle hit Selenke’s arm, cheers erupted and a few eyes teared.
The entire process was over in seconds with Selenke planning to head back to work at Winter Park Denver Health’s emergency room, where she will treat patients from Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and beyond.
“It feels more safe to go into work,” Selenke said. “I’m excited for what this means for our county, our nation and the world.”
At Middle Park Health, around 60 people were scheduled to receive vaccines Wednesday, including in-patient care providers, staff at the Granby clinic and Cliffview Assisted Living residents and staff. Local doses of the vaccine are also being distributing to Grand County EMS.
“We’ve had such a hard year, and I think it’s the first time all year that everyone feels there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Kayla Ray, Middle Park Health’s director of quality, risk and infection prevention. “There’s been so much work put in all year around making sure everyone is safe.”
Middle Park Health received 300 doses of the Moderna vaccine and the county health department received 100 doses, which will all be distributed using the tiered system approved by the state.
The system includes four phases with those at the highest risk of getting COVID-19 the first to be vaccinated. Phase 1A includes health care workers who directly work with COVID-19 patients and assisted living and long term care facility staff and residents.
Following that group, other health care providers, home health workers, dental services and first responders will receive the vaccine.
The second phase includes essential workers, people over 65 years old and those with underlying health conditions. Phase three is the general public.
According to Ellen Parri, leader of the immunization operation for Grand County Public Health, the second phase could start as early as mid-January.
“We hope to have most of our 1A population vaccinated within the next week or two weeks,” Parri said. “All of the doses we’ve been allotted — a total of 400 in Grand County — have somebody’s arm in line for them.”
Parri added that Phase 1B will likely start when the county receives its next vaccine shipment. There are no set dates for distribution, which will be dependent on availability and delivery of the vaccine.
Middle Park Health Chief Nursing Officer Deb Plemmons said the hospital is still working out details around distribution of the vaccine to the general public, but all of the clinics have ordered vaccines.
Pointing to the successful drive-up testing sites, Ray said the last year of fighting the pandemic has prepared the hospital for distribution. Since March, Middle Park Health has administered more than 3,200 COVID-19 tests.
“This year has been practice for this moment,” Ray said. “It primed us for making sure we have a smooth roll out for the vaccine.”
Moderna vs. Pfizer
Though Colorado received the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 14 and has already given it to over 38,000 people, Grand County waited to get the Moderna vaccine.
The vaccines are similar, but the Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept in ultra-cold vaccine storage while the Moderna vaccine doesn’t. Grand County doesn’t have ultra-cold storage for the Pfizer vaccine, which is why the county is using the Moderna vaccine.
The Moderna vaccine has been approved for anyone 18 and older, while the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for anyone 16 and older.
Another difference is the amount of time in between doses. Both vaccines require two doses, but the two doses for Moderna vaccine must be given 28 days apart while the Pfizer vaccine is given 21 days apart.
According to reporting from Forbes, there are no clear differences in effectiveness or safety of the vaccines, which both report over 90% efficacy rates. Officials with Grand County Public Health added that the vaccine will not give the recipient COVID-19.
After getting the first dose of the vaccine, Selenke expected the typical arm soreness that comes with any shot. The second dose of the vaccine may cause mild side effects, including low fever, headache or nausea. Selenke explained that these are common responses of an active immune system.
As with other vaccines, there’s a short monitoring period following the vaccination to watch for allergic or negative reactions. Ray encouraged anyone with a history of allergies to vaccines to reach out to their primary care provider.
Over the past month, Grand County’s COVID-19 case rate has been steadily dropping, although it still remains above the state’s threshold for Level Red guidelines.
On Monday, only 93 cases had been reported in the past two weeks, compared to the Nov. 25 high of 195 cases in the two-week period. Currently, the county is operating under Level Orange guidelines, with the exception of short term rentals and indoor gatherings.
In total, Grand County has had 20 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 with five still in the hospital, and the county is reporting two deaths involving COVID-19.
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