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Transportation barriers to getting the COVID-19 vaccine

Some Coloradans have had to cancel COVID vaccine appointments because they didn't have a way to get there.

DENVER — In early February, there was a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church in Denver.

A pattern quickly emerged.

Family, friends and volunteers, like Michelle Dettling, were giving rides to people who otherwise would have missed their appointments.

Dettling helped a 74-year-old woman who lived seven miles away but didn't have her own transportation.

"She wouldn't be able to come to the site to get a shot," Dettling said.

In order to get a COVID-19 vaccination, you have to make it to your appointment. Some Coloradans have had to cancel and get back on the waitlist because they couldn't get a ride, and the problem isn't isolated to Denver.

Hillary Simmons works with the non-profit A Little Help, which helps coordinate rides, among other services, for senior citizens. Simmons has observed transportation barriers across the state.

"Some of them come to us in great frustration because they weren't able to get a ride and had to reschedule an appointment or star6+3t again on a waiting list," she said.

The Denver Regional Council of Governments estimates roughly 96,275 older adults may need help getting to a vaccine appointment in Colorado, for their first or second dose.

Jayla Sanchez-Warren, with the Area Agency on Aging Director, said transportation has required a lot of logistics.

"Most of these folks asking for transportation need door to door assistance," she said

Sanchez-Warren added that they are scheduling the rides around specific appointment times, the waiting period after a person receives a vaccine, and coordinating with people living in multiple cities.

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There are similar concerns about transportation in less-populated areas of the state, like southwest Colorado.

"About 60 percent of individuals served in our two-county region live [rurally], meaning they have less access to transportation," Liane Jollon, with San Juan Basin Public Health, said.

The local public health department is relying on its eco-system of community partners and transportation groups to make the vaccine accessible. 

"The people living rurally in our community can live over an hour away from a population center," said Jollon.

Jollon also said a quarter of the population they serve doesn't have broadband. 

She hopes the system to help with transportation will hold and be fortified as more people become eligible.  

"One person at a time, one program at a time way to do this," she said.


The solution is layered and involved.

Colorado has identified specific neighborhoods and areas that are lower-income with more minority families to set up clinics, to make the vaccine more accessible.

9Health, a non-profit that operates separately from 9NEWS, has helped set up clinics in these neighborhoods, including at the Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church, Montbello High School and Life Source Adventist Church.

"What we discovered from our demographics data, that we are still parsing out, [is that] about 40% of the folks that came to our site live within the census tract we were serving right around that area," said Executive Director Gary Drews. "Another 20% were maybe within five miles and the rest from as far away as 40 to 50 miles away." 

Living within the census tract generally means within two miles. 

"Two miles for someone without a car is a good long way," said Drews. 

Like the state, SCL Health set up a whole list of partnerships during their mass vaccination clinic at the National Western Complex, including the Denver Regional Council of Government Area Agency on Aging, RTD, Uber, Lyft and VIA Mobility. 

"Then I would say the 20-plus faith leaders who truly shuttled people to and from their churches and neighborhoods to the National Western Complex," said Megan Mahncke with SCL Health. 

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Other non-profits like A Little Help rely on a network of neighbors willing to give neighbors rides. 

"We've had folks who need to go as far as 50 miles to go get their vaccine appointment," said Simmons. 

Social distancing is also a factor here. COVID might stop people from multiple households, especially people who are elderly and immunocompromised, from getting into the same car.

That issue also impacts buses and shuttles, making COVID safety protocols all the more vital. This includes reducing the number of people on board so that they can space out and installing plastic barriers. 

Still, agencies also said some people with vaccine appointments are still nervous about getting on a bus or shuttle at all.

Socioeconomic factors then play a role, too. Not everyone can afford a ride with Uber, Lyft or a taxi company.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CPDHE) added some insight writing: 

"The state COVID-19 response vaccine task force and CDPHE health equity staff are exploring a variety of transportation options, mobile delivery options for people who are homebound, or to assist Coloradans with mobility barriers or without personal vehicles, as solutions may look different from community to community.

The team is exploring both public and private partnerships and has initiated conversations with partners such as RTD and Lyft for additional options. In addition, local emergency management teams have plans to address transportation needs statewide. These plans are at different stages of being implemented."

For people who need help getting to a vaccine appointment, here are some existing support options:

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