On Friday, Incident Management Team officials received word — as expected — that Pitkin County would not be receiving any more vaccines this week after successfully administering 1,380 vaccine shots last week.
By Sunday, however, the IMT was excitedly prepared to open another single-day clinic after the state gave the update that Pitkin County would in fact be receiving “roughly 1,170” Pfizer vaccines, IMT Coordinator Gabe Muething said Monday. Pfizer vaccines often offer more doses per vial than initially anticipated, and per the Federal and Drug Administration, it’s encouraged that every extra dose finds its way into an arm.
“We found out we got zero, and then Sunday night rolls around, and we’re back at it. We’re not going to turn it down!” Muething said. “It’s a little surprising, but we’re certainly pleased.”
Vaccine allocation, especially to rural counties such as Pitkin, has been sporadic. One week, officials learned that despite an order of more than 1,000 vaccines, it would not receive any. Then, other weeks, shipments included a mere few hundred — what Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock described to county commissioners as “pizza-box deliveries.”
But last week and again this week, the pendulum has apparently swung back into Pitkin County’s favor.
It’s a “tough job” and one rooted in equity concerns, Muething said.
“In all reality, we really don’t know the full story of the how the allocations are happening. I do think they’re trying to have an equitable formula for how they do it. I think they’re trying their best — it’s a tough task,” he said.
One of the factors that works in favor, he offered, was likely the fact that the county has a dedicated IMT, a rarity for a local government of Pitkin’s size.
“An IMT is not rare, but it is rare for a county to have its own. We’re one of the very very few that has one that’s truly a county-based team. If you look around the state, most of the vaccines are being done by hospitals or by public health. Very few other rural communities could put on what we’ve done and do it effectively,” he said.
Aspen’s international brand — which brings the types of events, such as the Winter X Games, that require the increased, coordinated security of an IMT — is one reason for the operation being what it is, he continued.
“We are certainly practiced in having an IMT because we use it so often,” Muething said.
But one of the variables that perhaps contributed to Pitkin County’s early days of disappointing vaccine allotments was its official population count, he noted. While many full-time residents of the three-county Roaring Fork Valley work in Aspen, they may live in Eagle or Garfield County but spend most of their time in Pitkin, for instance. Additionally, many second homeowners contribute to Pitkin’s actual population. But the census doesn’t necessarily reflect those dynamics, he continued.
“Unfortunately, the most we’ve heard out of the state is they’re trying to allocate based on population. Pitkin County is so weird when it comes to population. If you go by census data, is it really accurate?” Muething said. “It’s very difficult to get to an actual number.”
As for the most recent surprise delivery, Muething said that he anticipates the next vaccine clinic going more smoothly.
“Our goal is to kind of get into a rhythm, which we’ve already done — we typically will open up the registration process where folks can sign up on Tuesdays, and then on Thursday or Friday, depending on how many doses we get, we’ll set up a clinic. For this week, at least, we’ll have a single-day clinic on Friday,” he said.
He also noted that the IMT will be implementing new technological platforms to ensure a smooth operation. But that doesn’t mean completely smooth sailing, either; Muething said he and his team are continually eyeing ways to improve the vaccine clinics.
“Traffic flow, we’ve really worked hard over the last few weeks to really streamline how we do things. One week, we’ll have 200; the next week we’ll have 1,400. We’re really figuring out all those intricacies. Hopefully, by the time we have this down to a science, the pandemic will be over,” he said.