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COVID-19 one year later

Focus on vaccines, hope, and health

by Julie Estlick

A year after the first COVID-19 virus cases drastically changed life in northern Colorado and brought stress and hardship, things are looking up. Vaccines have arrived to protect people from serious illness and death, along with a plan by state leaders to inoculate everyone who wants it by summer. Businesses and schools in Larimer County are reopening to serve more people. But we can’t let our guard down yet: COVID is still more prevalent locally than it was most of last year. And there are increasing numbers of COVID virus variant cases that spread more rapidly than the original virus.

renewal pull quote boxCOVID has killed 15 times as many Americans as an average flu season according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including over 6,200 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Colorado. However, increased testing, maintaining public safety precautions, and now vaccinations have helped slow the spread in our state and greatly decreased the number of people requiring hospitalization.

Spring 2021 feels like a chance at renewal—but only if we play our cards right. The most important thing everyone can do right now to protect your family and to move us toward safety and fewer restrictions is to make an appointment for the COVID-19 vaccine when it is your turn, says Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

“We are suggesting that when offered the opportunity to receive a vaccine, people take it and do not wait. COVID-19 can become a serious illness and the sooner people can begin to be protected, the better,” Hunsaker Ryan says. And don’t worry about the brand of vaccine, as all three vaccines that are currently available have been proven to be extremely effective against severe illness and death from COVID, she adds.

Coloradans seem to be listening. As of April 3, over 2.7 million cumulative doses have been administered to residents, including nearly 1.1 million people who are fully immunized, according to CDPHE. In Larimer County, over 191,000 doses have been given through April 3 by multiple providers through appointments and community clinics.

These are positive trends because while the coronavirus is still very much with us, many health experts believe that the light at the end of the tunnel illuminates a world where folks will be socializing again in person, more people will return to the workplace, and we can begin reassembling our lives.

Once you are fully vaccinated, it is safe to meet indoors with others who are also immunized—or at low-risk—without masks or social distancing, according to the CDC. It typically takes two weeks after vaccination for the body to build protection against the virus that causes COVID-19. That means it’s possible a person could still get the virus before or just after vaccination and then get sick because the vaccine did not have enough time to provide protection. People are considered fully protected two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine.

Getting the vaccine allows you the freedom to reconnect with your support network and increase social interaction, things that are vital to our emotional well-being, says Health District Medical Director Dr. James Stewart. “Your comfort around risk is a personal decision, but once you get the vaccine you can start to think about planning that trip, visiting family and friends, eating out, and returning to a life less restricted.”

This means that grandparents can finally hug their grandkids, and friends can once again see one another’s smile while playing a favorite game, sharing a meal, or just catching up. Nursing home residents can hold hands with family members, glass windows and doors no longer separating them. What an immense relief people of all ages will feel after the heavy toll that  lockdown has taken on our collective mental health.

pregnant woman getting vaccinatedGetting the shot

Three things to know:

  1. The vaccine is free for everyone.
  2. Most providers require appointments or registration for mass vaccine events. Don’t expect to just walk in/drive up and get your shot.
  3. Transportation to and from your vaccination is available. Contact the provider you’ll be seeing for your shot to connect with available ride services.

Your first step is to register with the Larimer County Health Department so you can be notified by a local vaccine provider when you are eligible to make an appointment based on the state’s distribution phases. The form is online and can be found on larimer.org by clicking on the COVID-19 tabs at the top of the screen. You can call for help completing the form at 970-498-5500 weekdays 9 a.m.– 4:30 p.m.

Check with your employer to see if they are coordinating clinics for staff. If not, large health systems—UCHealth, Banner Health, and Kaiser Permanente—are vaccinating the public whether or not you are a current patient in their health system, but you must sign up online and wait to be invited to schedule an appointment. If you are unable to use the UCHealth online portal, call 720-462-2255 to be added to their notification list.

Community clinics including Salud Family Health in Fort Collins and Sunrise Community Health in Loveland are taking online sign-ups, and some Safeway and King Soopers pharmacies in Larimer County are scheduling appointments online. Select Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies around Colorado are also making vaccine appointments, so check their websites.

Don’t panic if you don’t get an appointment right away. Vaccine supply in Colorado is still limited and there isn’t enough vaccine yet for everyone who is eligible and wants to get it. It’s typical to be on a list for a few weeks before an appointment becomes available. State leaders stress to be patient and as supply increases each week everyone will get their shots.

Vaccine equity

Concerns over lower vaccination rates among people of certain populations, such as people of color and rural areas, are being addressed by state and local public health leaders, local communities, and northern Colorado health equity organizations like Queen’s Legacy Foundation and the
BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Alliance. Community and health representatives are working together to answer questions, build trust, and plan special vaccine clinics. The Health District of Northern Larimer County is involved through holding special clinics not only at its Bristlecone offices, but also at more convenient sites such as churches, and in communities like Red Feather Lakes.

“Our philosophy is ‘no one is left behind’,” says Hunsaker Ryan. “Colorado has committed 10 percent of vaccines to community pop-up clinics where the state partners with churches or local nonprofits in places that people may find it harder to get the shot. Vaccines are also sent to pharmacies in ‘vaccine deserts’—places that lack health-care providers but do have a neighborhood Walgreens where pharmacists give shots.”

Protect you + me

Although COVID-19 vaccines are effective at keeping you from getting sick, scientists are still learning how well vaccines prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 to others, even if you do not have symptoms. Early data from the CDC show the vaccines do help keep people with no symptoms from spreading COVID-19, but we are learning more as more people get vaccinated.

Scientists and medical experts are also still learning how long the vaccines protect people. And remember that while the vaccine is helping slow the spread of the virus, it will take a while longer to achieve community immunity so that those who can’t get the shot are able to safely resume public activities.

For these reasons, people who have been fully vaccinated should keep taking precautions in public places by following the 3 Ws: Wear a mask, Watch your distance (stay at least 6 feet apart from others) while also avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and Wash your hands often.  

The end is in sight! Some state residents are already fully immunized, and if the federal vaccine supply continues as expected most people age 16 and older should be vaccinated by late summer. After more than a year of isolation, cancellations, and loss, celebrating a return to everyday routines will be worth the wait.

Get the facts

Larimer County Department of Health and Environment-
Updated guidance, how to sign up for vaccine, and list of local providers.
larimer.org/covid-19-vaccine

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment -
Daily updates on COVID-19 infection rates and vaccine administration, public health mandates.
covid19.colorado.gov
Queen's Legacy Foundation -
Information for the Black community on COVID-19 vaccines; weekly updates on virus spread.
queenslegacyfoundation.org/stop-the-spread-of-covid-19
Colorado State Vaccine Call Center -
1-877-CO VAX CO (1-877-268-2926). Answered 24/7.