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COVID-19 Vaccinations Turning Into Game of Roulette

Vaccinations are available — sometimes — at this Fort Collins Safeway.
Vaccinations are available — sometimes — at this Fort Collins Safeway.
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Like most news organizations around Colorado, Westword regularly receives tips on the hassle of getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Many of those ages seventy and up — the group currently being prioritized under phase 1B of the state's program — are finding it difficult to figure out how, when and where to sign up for a vaccination, even as they're hearing anecdotes about younger people getting shots ahead of schedule because of connections, subterfuge or just plain luck.

A case in point: my mother, who's 81 and lives in Fort Collins. She spent nearly a month being strung along by a major health-care system before learning through the grapevine about inoculations at her nearby Safeway grocery store. She got her first injection there on Monday, January 25, and it sounded like a good-news story demonstrating that the process is as quick and easy as Governor Jared Polis continues to insist it is at his regular press conferences. But as of this morning, January 27, local Safeway stores are out of vaccine to dispense — meaning my mom got in just under the wire.

My mother has been receiving medical care from a network that is supposed to automatically inform members who qualify about vaccination options, thereby giving them an opportunity to schedule an appointment. But when she didn't get such an email by the first half of January, despite receiving regular communication from the service for other matters, she called to ask what was going on — and was informed by the customer-service representative that a notice had gone out to her on December 27.

That doesn't appear to have been true; my sister checked her computer to confirm that nothing of the sort had popped up in either her main mailbox or her spam filter, in which many of the messages are landing. But the rep assured my mother that she was on a notification list and should be hearing soon about when she'd have a chance to be vaccinated.

After another week went by without word, my mother heard about vaccination availability at King Soopers — but when she stopped by her neighborhood branch, she was told the nearest store in the chain where she could get a shot was in Greeley. But then, on January 24, a friend sent her an Albertsons Safeway link that would allow her to get on a schedule, and she found the process a snap. After clicking on COVID-19 vaccinations, she merely had to identify herself as a member of the general public of the appropriate vintage and enter her zip code to pull up the calendar for a nearby Safeway, at 1426 East Harmony Road. She was able to schedule an appointment for the next day, and when she went in, there wasn't a crowd — just a single person who'd received a shot moments before. She received her injection in a matter of moments and has already reserved the date to receive her second shot.

Kris Staaf, senior director of public affairs and government relations for Albertsons Safeway's Denver division, has collected good feedback about the setup. "Currently, the majority of our pharmacies in the State of Colorado are immunizing our senior population aged seventy-plus," she notes. "These individuals can locate a pharmacy with vaccine and appointments by going to Safeway.com/CovidClinic. Because vaccine is limited, this website is updated frequently as we receive vaccine. Once a patient locates an appointment, the scheduler will ask for basic information such as name, address, date of birth, email address and phone number. It will also ask how they would like to receive communication, email or text, for reminders as well as scheduling the second dose. Once they have confirmed their appointment, they will receive a confirmation based on the communication preference indicated.

"We are hearing that the actual scheduling piece is easy and straightforward," she continues, "and when receiving the vaccine, the lines are minimal and the patient is taken care of right away. The most challenging aspect is the small amounts of vaccine we are receiving on a regular basis."

That's the rub: We checked the site this morning for availability in both Fort Collins and stores within a fifty-mile radius of downtown Denver — and not one has any vaccine right now.

That leaves seniors to wait for the chain to get more, hope to be contacted by their health-care network, sign up on multiple lists for other systems, check resource pages such as the one maintained by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, or reach out to UCHealth about the mass vaccinations scheduled outside Coors Field this weekend.

Vaccinations have become like a game of roulette — and at present, a win is hardly guaranteed.

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