Providers can’t stop non-residents from getting vaccinated in Grand
With vaccine availability still limited statewide and nationwide, Grand County is seeing a different type of visitor this winter: the vaccine tourist.
Grand County Public Health Director Abbie Baker reported that between a third and a half of vaccines distributed by a local provider have gone to non-residents. This impairs local work to immunize residents because of the limited number of vaccines allocated to the county.
Doses are distributed by the state to counties based on census population data, and Grand makes up only 0.3% of the state’s population. However, local providers can’t verify residency when distributing those vaccines.
Baker explained over the phone Friday that some vaccines are definitely going to people living outside the county, but she doesn’t know the exact number.
“Vaccine tourism is definitely a thing,” Baker said. “Our residents are going elsewhere to get vaccines and other residents are coming here to get vaccines.”
Since residency is not required to get an appointment, eligible and willing locals have also been encouraged to travel to the Front Range where there are more providers able to distribute the vaccine — even though those vaccines are also allocated based on the local population.
“It does eventually equal out, but it’s really difficult as a provider to see the small amounts that we received so far go to people that don’t live or work here,” Baker said.
Tracking just how many residents are getting vaccinated out of county and how many non-residents are getting vaccinated in the county is hard to do with the current data.
Grand County Public Health reports the number of total doses given by local providers regardless of the residency of the receiver. The state, on the other hand, reports vaccine doses based on an individual’s primary residence regardless of where the shot was given.
According to state data, 3,235 vaccine doses have been given to Grand County residents as of Friday. Alternatively, Grand County Public Health has reported 3,541 administered in the county as of Tuesday, implying that about 300 doses have gone to non-residents.
However, the state’s vaccine data is still in beta and reporting can lag, so these numbers are approximate.
There’s not much local providers can do about non-resident vaccinations. When it comes to the process, providers are mostly depending on the patient’s assurances — whether that’s about residency, age, high-risk conditions or occupation.
“We’re going on people’s word that they qualify,” Baker said.
Grand currently has the 16th lowest vaccine rate per capita out of Colorado’s 64 counties, according to state reporting. Even so, it is still outperforming nearby Gilpin and Clear Creek counties.
Ideally, Baker said vaccine production would ramp up to a level that Grand could afford to worry less about where vaccines go.
“The way the vaccine has been manufactured to this point has left everybody with something to be desired,” Baker said.
While vaccine tourism may impede local immunization efforts, Baker added that visitors can also spread COVID-19. Getting more people vaccinated is a win for everyone regardless of their origin.
“The main objective is get shots into arms as much as possible, as quickly as possible,” Baker said. “Any shot in an arm is better than none.”
Gov. Jared Polis announced an update to the state’s vaccination plan on Friday adjusting who is eligible for the vaccine next. Starting March 5, anyone over 60, individuals of any age with two or more high-risk conditions, and essential workers in grocery and agriculture will be eligible for the shot.
The change moved up older and sicker people from the previous plan and pushed back most other essential workers. If distribution continues at the expected rate, people 50 and older, individuals with one high risk condition and most other public facing essential workers will be eligible for the vaccine at the end of March.
The best way to ensure a resident gets a vaccine is to sign up on the county’s registration form at http://www.co.grand.co.us/vaccine.
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