A grassroots effort to run a large-scale, communitywide COVID-19 vaccination site for La Plata County appears to be taking hold.
Earlier this month, a coalition of medical volunteers expressed an interest in creating a site that could distribute the COVID-19 vaccine on a large scale, which previously, there had not been plans for.
“So of course, we were thrilled there’s a community group that’s interested,” said Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health.
Last week on Saturday, about 150 community volunteers performed a test run at the La Plata County Fairground’s Exhibit Hall, simulating how the site would operate and vaccinating about 120 of the volunteers in the process.
The test run proved successful and will serve as the model for vaccinations, said Karen Zink, certified nurse practitioner with Southwest Women’s Health Associates and member of the Community COVID-19 Vaccination Team.
“My goal is to not only protect us as people from the spread of COVID, but also just to be able to open the economy and get kids back to school,” Zink said.
This Saturday, the community vaccination site expects to vaccinate 300 members of the public who are 70 or older, and the hope is the site can continue or increase the pace in coming weeks.
“A lot of that is going to be based on how many vaccinations we can get,” Zink said.
The plan is to offer vaccinations every Saturday going forward, she said.
Members of the public who are interested and eligible are asked to sign up for SJBPH’s COVID-19 vaccine notification emails. When available, the email will include a link to sign up for the vaccine at the community site.
(SJBPH is working on a way for the public to be able to book by phone.)
Appointments will be handed out on a first-come, first-serve basis, with the information about the day and time to show up at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. There will also be a virtual waiting list.
People are asked to show up at the fairgrounds in blocks of 30 people. After receiving the vaccine, people without a high risk of reaction are asked to wait 15 minutes, and people with a high risk of a reaction are asked to wait 30 minutes.
Of the 120 or so people vaccinated last week, no one had a reaction, Zink said. Across the country, about two per 500 people vaccinated require some form of medical attention, she said.
As a matter of precaution, a Durango Fire Protection District crew and ambulance will be on-site.
“We’re happy to do it,” Chief Hal Doughty said. “We want to be a part of helping out in the community.”
Figuring out how to distribute vaccines on a large scale is an issue many communities throughout the country are grappling with, Zink said.
But La Plata County is ahead of the curve, she said, mostly because of the organizational structure of the 9Health Fair, which offers free to low-cost health care that has been ongoing for 40 years.
“We are way ahead of the country on this, in fact, we’re ahead of the state,” Zink said. “If people can just hang tight, we’re going to get it done.”
The only limiting factor, Jollon said, is the amount of vaccines available.
“We don’t have guarantees of getting unlimited vaccines,” she said. “That’s just the unfortunate reality.”
SJBPH did secure 300 vaccines for this Saturday. But there are no assurances about how many vaccines the health department receives week to week, Jollon said.
The vaccine used at the fairgrounds is produced by Pfizer, which requires a second dose three weeks after the first dose.
Zink said she hopes to get to a point where the community site is vaccinating 1,000 people a day, once a week. She also hopes everyone 70 and older will be vaccinated within the next two months.
“This is a grassroots population-based community health initiative,” she said. “Every vaccination counts.”