Montrose County clamors for more COVID vaccines; urges more acceptance by those eligible to receive one

Thank you to Katharhynn Heidelberg with the Montrose Press for the below article. Click here to read the original. 

Montrose County Public Health and its medical partners are eager to vaccinate as many residents as possible against COVID-19, but must navigate a slim supply, as well as an apparent reluctance among about half of those eligible for the current rollout.

“We need vaccine. The county is ready to go. We feel we can do around 5,000 doses a week,” said Dr. Joe Adragna, pandemic specialist for the county.

The county has received nowhere near sufficient supply of the Moderna vaccine against the virus; however, its most recent shipment was, at 200 doses, far below what was requested and took the total doses received so far to about 1,100. (Many nursing homes received vaccines through the federal government and pharmacy partners; public health took care of a facility that was not under this federal program. Montrose Memorial Hospital has also been administering vaccines.)

“We need vaccines. That’s completely dependent on the state shipping it to us, which they say is dependent on the federal government shipping it to them. … These shipments are very, very slim and we are told the state does not have ample supply,” Adragna said.

Montrose County is following state priority guidelines for who gets the vaccine and when. Phase 1A, the inoculation of frontline health care workers, nursing home staff and residents, and staff and residents of similar facilities, began Dec. 22. Members of law enforcement and the fire district also began receiving vaccines.

Based on general surveys, the county is seeing a take rate of about 50% among people who were eligible to receive the vaccine. Adragna said nursing homes saw an acceptance rate of about 55% among staff.

“I think that is far too low. I think people are sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see what will happen,” he said.

“I think vaccines are one of the most natural things we can do. We’re giving a little taste of what we want (the body) to fight.”

A vaccine does not transmit COVID-19, Adragna said. It contains MRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid. MRNA sends a message to cells to make proteins that fight diseases. MRNA does not change a person’s cells or alter DNA.

The vaccines recently approved provide a critical tool in fighting COVID-19. Other options are not ideal.

“You can get COVID, and the risk of that is not insignificant,” Adragna said. The disease is especially risky to older adults, and even young people have wound up in the hospital, or with long-term side effects.

“Your other option is to get vaccinated. No one has died from it. It’s much safer than the risk of getting infected is in some of our populations,” Adragna said, specifically mentioning people 70 and older.

“In the vast majority of people, the benefit is greater than the harm. The benefit of taking the vaccine outweighs the harm of the virus.”

Adragna has also seen some eligible people hesitate to receive the vaccine because they don’t want to take it from someone else who might need it more. He said they should not hesitate to preregister for a dose. (Visit montrosecountyjic.com for more information.)

“If you meet criteria, you meet criteria. We need to get your name on the list,” he said.

People in the health care field and first responders such as police and firefighters need to be vaccinated to protect others, too, and so that their agencies can maintain sufficient staffing levels to serve the public.

“We had a number of staff get registered and vaccinated,” Montrose Fire Protection District Chief Tad Rowan said. Rowan, who is part of a multi-party COVID response team, was among those to be vaccinated.

“I know that there’s some hesitancy among people in receiving the vaccine. Through research and education from trusted sources, I made the decision it was absolutely appropriate for me to receive the vaccine,” Rowan said.

“I did that to ensure I would not contract COVID-19 and therefore unknowingly spread COVID-19 to any population in this community I’m here to serve.”

Earlier during the pandemic, the fire district experienced minor staffing issues when people had to quarantine due to exposure. Other staffers had to work overtime so that the fire district could maintain its levels of service.

“By vaccinating, that really eases that burden of future staffing issues,” Rowan said.

Rowan also was concerned with the current vaccination rate.

“I would love to see that rate significantly higher. I feel the vaccine is safe and this is the best way for us as a community to get back to some semblance of normalcy,” he said.

The Montrose Police Department and Montrose County Sheriff’s Office staff have also begun receiving the vaccine. Law enforcement and other first responders were under Phase 1B of the rollout, but were able to be added to 1A.

“We feel very fortunate,” said Police Chief Blaine Hall, who received the vaccine earlier this week, along with his command staff.

“We absolutely believe it’s safe. I personally had no side effects. It brings me peace of mind,” Hall said. “We want to make sure we’re still protecting people and on top of that, that we’re setting a good example.”

The shot does not automatically confer immunity, but allows the body to develop it over a period of about two weeks, after which, a booster shot is ideally administered. Adragna said even a single shot helps confer greater immunity and overall, the vaccine has been shown to be 95% effective.

“I think with our staff members overall, it has been positive,” Hall said. “We haven’t had 100% of our employees accept the vaccine, but we feel very fortunate we’ve been offered availability to take it and I know many people in the community would sacrifice a lot to get the vaccine early.”

Deputies have also begun receiving the vaccine, Sheriff Gene Lillard said, although so far, the majority of his staff have not.

“I don’t want to see anybody get sick and die with the coronavirus,” Lillard said, adding he was pleased that deputies and other employees who want the vaccine can now get it.

“I believe it is their right if they want to or do not want to take it,” Lillard said.

Like the MPD, the MCSO continues prevention practices such as masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing. These practices should be maintained, even among people who have been vaccinated. Also, people who are eligible for a vaccine must not appear at the vaccine site if they are quarantining because of exposure; doing so will put other people at risk.

Although not everyone currently eligible for a vaccine has opted for one, there is high demand in the community, where more than 3,000 have preregistered. Those who have preregistered at montrosecountyjic.com will receive a link for formal registration once vaccinations begin in the phase for which they qualify. Highest risk health care workers and highest risk individuals came first and are being followed by moderate-risk health care workers, first responders, frontline essential workers and those whose jobs are necessary for the continuity of state government. This category also includes those who are 70 or older and vaccinations are expected to be completed this winter.

Phase 2 — for higher-risk individuals such as those with diabetes, obesity or heart disease; those 60 — 69, other essential workers and those who received a placebo during vaccine trials — is expected to begin in spring.

Phase 3, for the general public, could begin in summer. All timelines are subject to changes and supply.

“Preregistration is just fine,” said Adragna. “If you meet the criteria of 1B, register now. If you are number 5,000, at least you’re on the list.”

Adragna said the state has guaranteed second doses for booster shots, that when the first round is sent, a second round is reserved for the recommended booster shot.

If a person’s first vaccination was administered under Montrose Memorial Hospital’s allocation, the hospital is to notify that person of the availability of the second shot. If the vaccine was given under Montrose County Public Health’s allocation, public health follows up.

“We want as much vaccine as they will give us. We don’t want to hold back. We want to take care of Montrose County. If they’ve got the vaccine, we will take it and continue to move through the phases,” Adragna said.

The county doesn’t want to just sit on doses, but to administer all received as quickly as possible, he also said.

“We’re hopeful the supply chain improves as time goes on and hopefully, Montrose will get allocations that are larger,” Adragna said. “ … It’s all about the supply chain at this point. We are ready to execute. We need the vaccine. We are working on behalf of the public to get this brought to us.”

The fire district’s paramedics have assisted the county in administering the vaccine. “I feel our community is prepared to roll out the vaccine rapidly,” Rowan said.

“The hang up is us being able to receive quantities of that vaccine.”

He, too, said the goal is to promptly administer whatever is received. “If we’ve got it, it should be in the people that are willing to receive it,” Rowan said.

The vaccine is a powerful and welcome weapon, Adragna said.

“We can finally go on the offensive. We don’t have to hide anymore. We don’t have to wait for a tool we can use to fight back with. We have that now. We need to encourage our friends and neighbors to take this vaccine.”