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Rural communities with limited vaccine supply inoculate hundreds of out-of-county residents

Coloradans can travel anywhere in the state to get a vaccine, and many have driven to the northeast corner for their shots.

Rural communities in northeast Colorado continue to vaccinate as many eligible residents as possible with limited amounts of doses and out-of-county Coloradans traveling hours to get some of their supply.

“We are allocated vaccine based on our population,” Northeast Colorado Health Department (NCHD) Director Trish McClain told 9NEWS. “If we have people that are coming from the front range or other places to get vaccine…It makes it a little frustrating for the local folks because they kind of feel like they’re getting pushed down the line.”

As of last week, 6,400 doses have been allocated for all six of the counties NCHD covers – Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington and Yuma.

There are a little over 15,000 people categorized into Phase 1A and 1B.1 in NCHD’s jurisdiction, according to the health department.

"It looks like across all of [NCHD] clinics so far, we're averaging 31% of appointments live within the six-county health district, but outside of the county where they were vaccinated, and 17% have been from outside our district,” NCHD said.

That means the northeastern health department alone has inoculated more than 700 out-of-district Coloradans. That number in the region could be higher when hospital doses eventually get added into the final figures.

The state allows for people to get vaccinated anywhere in Colorado where they can get an appointment.

“It’s not that we don’t want to give [the vaccine] to everybody that we can, but vaccine supplies are really limited, and we’re trying to make sure that we’re taking care of the people we’re charged to take care of."

The health department said people have put their names on multiple vaccine appointment lists, and then either forget to take their names off, or do not show up.

If there are extra doses at the end of a clinic, nurses must find someone to inoculate so vaccine does not go to waste.

“Just the distances that we may have to travel just to make sure that vaccine gets used up can be a little bit of a challenge,” McClain said.

Recently with a steady increase in doses statewide and more accessible inoculation options, NCHD said they have not been seeing as many people out-of-district in their clinics; however, there is concern this will become a bigger hurdle to jump over as more people become vaccine eligible.

“We certainly don’t want people feeling like they have to travel three or four hours to get a vaccine,” McClain said. “That’s sad, because you know that they just want [a dose].”

Supply is just one of many struggles rural communities are facing as they organize inoculation efforts.

Communication with residents can be tough, and some counties, like Washington County, do not have hospitals.

Hospitals are allocated 60% of a county’s vaccine supply. Public health departments, like NCHD, get 15%.

“It’s nice that we’re able to use some of our allocation to vaccinate some of the residents who maybe can’t travel another 20 or 30 miles to the nearest hospital in order to get the vaccine, so it’s nice that we’re able to fill that gap,” McClain said.

NCHD posts vaccine clinic dates, locations and sign ups on their website as soon as they have the details about when their next allocation will be, and how much supply they will receive.

RELATED: Reaching Coloradans in vaccine deserts could mean contacting one person at a time

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