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How one Colorado county with a large population of seniors is handling COVID-19 vaccinations

Jefferson County is partnering with local pharmacies in order to help seniors obtain vaccines at places they know and trust.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colorado — Dr. Mark Johnson knows that he faces a daunting task.

He’s the interim director of the Jefferson County Public Health Department, and serves a community with one of the largest populations of older Americans in the state. Johnson said getting vaccines to a population that is the most high risk is difficult in any circumstance, but especially during a pandemic where speed is key.

"We cannot do it by ourselves,” Johnson said. “We do not have the resources in local public health or even at the state health department to do this.”

Nevertheless, Johnson said he’s off to a fast start. Jefferson County has been able to give at least one shot to all of the seniors in its skilled nursing facilities, and they are now moving on to the 64,000 other people over the age of 70 in the community.

Johnson said doing this has required enlisting every medical resource they can, especially at the grassroots level of their communities. This includes working to incorporate the staff and expertise at area King Soopers and Safeway pharmacies.

It’s part of a strategy to meet older residents in the communities where they live.

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"That is a strong tool that we have embraced within our preparedness program and within our health department is to utilize the strength of community partnerships and community organizations who interact with this population all the time," said Christine Billings, head of the Office of Pandemic Response in JeffCo.

She said her team is working to get the vaccine to partners in the neighborhoods where seniors live. Billings said more than 42,000 seniors in Jefferson County have been vaccinated, with more than 11,000 having received both doses.  

For additional speed and efficiency, JeffCo is enlisting the neighborhood pharmacies that many older residents are already familiar with.

"That population knows and trusts them,” Billings said. “We don't need to build that relationship. We just need to leverage and utilize the strength of that relationship to share the information, share the power of partnership really within our senior community to get them vaccinated as quickly as we get vaccines into our county.”

Kelly Conroy, the associate director of clinical services at Jefferson County Public Health, said the team knows how frustrating it can be for those waiting for what has become the most valuable resource on the planet.

"We have so much empathy and compassion,” she said. “We understand the frustration that people over 70 right now are feeling with trying to find the vaccine. We're trying to get information out as quickly as possible and trying to get them those opportunities.” But supplies are still limited and it's not lost on anyone that deaths in the senior group are still at frightening levels, accounting for more than 80% of the total deaths to the virus.

The JeffCo team said they continue to run the race against time for their community, right down to the EMS personnel who are frequently the first to encounter sick patients.

"The men and women who are out there on engines and on ambulances, in people's homes, those (are the people) that are really doing the hard work of EMS," said Dave Mitchell, the EMS chief for the Arvada Fire Protection District.

Mitchell said he knows he and his staff are on the front line, and at times it can be terrifying. But he said they will continue to do all that's asked of them – a sentiment echoed by the other members of JeffCo’s public health team.

"It's just an incredible thing and so important that we get as many people vaccinated as fast as possible," Mitchell said.

  • To hear more from the experts in this story and other top officials in JeffCo directing the vaccination effort, go to the following link for "Let's Talk with Mark Koebrich", a production of "Lakewood-8" and "Arvada-8" Partners in "Senior Source" on 9NEWS.com: https://youtu.be/NvzrHoL36c4
  • More information about the COVID-19 vaccine can be found on both JCPH’s website and CDPHE’s website.

JeffCo Public Health said it will continue to offer additional appointments as more vaccine becomes available. Please sign up for an appointment at the JCPH COVID-19 Clinics webpage.