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Roger Wolfe was stunned when he opened his email Monday afternoon to see a message from UCHealth inviting him to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Wolfe, 76, of Fort Collins, isn’t a health care worker or living in a nursing home; he has no direct contact with COVID-19 patients. Under earlier state vaccination guidelines, he wasn’t due for the vaccine until phase 2, when people over age 65 were due to be vaccinated against the highly contagious disease.
Instead, Wolfe was among several people age 75 or older chosen at random to get the vaccine as part of a small UCHealth pilot program. Wolfe got the first of two Moderna vaccines Tuesday afternoon at Poudre Valley Hospital.
“I was extremely surprised, maybe shocked” to get the invitation, he said. “As far as I knew, they were only giving it to health care workers, nursing home residents and other health professionals.”
The pilot was designed to help UCHealth plan its expanded vaccination program in the coming weeks and months, and “help inform us about what accommodations need to be made for these patients,” spokeswoman Kelly Tracer said.
UCHealth is running the pilot while vaccinating first responders and community health care providers, which began last week, Tracer said.
Currently, UCHealth has offered the vaccine only to staff and health care providers who may have contact with patients who have COVID-19, a limited number of first responders, EMS providers and community health care providers.
New vaccination guidelines
The pilot program puts UCHealth in line with new vaccination guidelines issued Wednesday by the state. Neither the state nor health system responded to questions as to whether UCHealth sought the state’s permission to run the pilot program or if CDPHE approved the plan.
The state previously released a phased plan for distributing coronavirus vaccines through summer 2021. In the updated plan released Wednesday, the state added older Coloradans and other essential workers to Phase 1B of the plan, which some areas of the state are currently in after vaccinating all in Phase 1A, Gov. Jared Polis said during a news conference.
Phase 1B will now also prioritize Coloradans age 70 and older as well as front-line workers in education, food and agriculture, manufacturing, the U.S. Postal Service, public transportation, specialized transportation, grocery stores, public health and journalism. Those providing direct care to people experiencing homelessness will also be prioritized in this phase.
Essential workers in executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government have also been moved up to Phase 1B.
“We have harmonized our phases to be further in line with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and expect that it will allow providers to give the vaccine even more efficiently,” a CDPHE spokeswoman said in an email to the Coloradoan. “We expect providers to follow the updated phases as closely as feasible without wasting vaccines.”
The state is currently in phase 1A and moving into 1B, the state said.
Systemwide, UCHealth has administered more than 22,300 vaccines at its facilities throughout the state, including those in the pilot program. Tracer didn’t have a breakdown of how many vaccines it had offered at PVH or Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland.
After registering online, Wolfe set an appointment for Tuesday morning, arrived 15 minutes early to a conference room adjacent to the PVH cafeteria and within a few minutes had received the first of two vaccines and had an appointment for the second shot in four weeks.
“It was kind of a lottery,” he said. “I was one of the fortunate few whose name came up in the lottery and I was pleased to have it. I certainly wouldn’t want to take the place of any nurse, doctor or health care worker but apparently they had enough vaccines to do this and was something they wanted to do to make sure their systems were working properly.”
UCHealth still has limited supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine, Tracer said, and is unable to offer it broadly.
COVID-19 vaccine:State to prioritize Coloradans 70 and older, teachers, grocery staff
When more vaccines become available, UCHealth patients will begin to receive messages through their My Health Connection patient portal, she said.
Tracer said UCHealth is following the vaccine distribution plan from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and expects to vaccinate high-risk patients in the spring and the general public in the summer.
Sady Swanson contributed to this report.
Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.