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

The state health department is working with community partners to address COVID vaccine deserts in Denver and around the state. Here's how.

DENVER, N.C. — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is working with community health partners to address vaccine deserts. 

"We want to be sure that in the haste of getting vaccines out, we don't unintentionally create barriers to access," the department told 9NEWS in an email.

CDPHE says "vaccine desert" is a way to describe a lack of access to vaccine providers in an underserved community. The reason could be related to geography, income, getting paid leave from work and even vaccine acceptance.

To combat the issue, the state is in the process of developing a pilot program with community organizations to provide support and help with outreach. Here's a look at how they're doing it.

SCL Health

Megan Mahncke, the senior vice president for external relations at SCL Health, said they are going to host an event starting in early February at the National Western Complex. Its focus is getting people 70 and older and from underserved communities registered. 

"Our goal is to vaccinate 5,000 folks in our community, hosting it at the National Western Complex," Mahncke said.

They picked the location for a reason. 

"Because of the surrounding neighborhoods," Mahncke told 9NEWS. "Elyria-Swansea, Globeville, North Park Hill, unincorporated Adams County -- we are focusing on the populations who live there."

Even if a person meets the age requirement, SCL Health said this isn't something anyone can sign up for online.

They are working with non-profits, community leaders and faith organizations to reach the right people for this event, even signing people up one at a time. They are setting up the event in a way that addresses language barriers, transportation, mobility, and working on educating people about the vaccine. 

The goal is to vaccinate 5,000 people with both doses in a month. SCL Health said they have the vaccine supply for this clinic through a partnership with the state, so they have the commitment to do this event.  

STRIDE Community Health Center

STRIDE has been hosting vaccine clinics, including one planned for Overland High School at the end of the month. It's for those 70 and older and STRIDE patients are prioritized. The heath center anticipates vaccinating more than 500 people.

When it comes to vaccine deserts, Ben Wiederholt, the president and CEO of STRIDE Community Health Center, said they are stepping in to help in Park County. Wiederholt said the community there faces many barriers, including a limited number of providers, transportation and internet access.

So, STRIDE is planning on hosting a vaccine clinic in Park County in early February for those 70 and older, prioritizing their patients and county residents. 

Wiederholt said they have the vaccine supply for next weekend's event and are confident in their supply for the Park County event, as well.

Other plans?

The health systems are still working on reaching out and vaccinating people 70 and older in ways other than the events mentioned above.

Both health systems said a lot depends on the pace of vaccines being shipped to Colorado and the bandwidth of the staff when it comes to future events. 

The state department of health also wrote that it's working with several other health systems to set up other clinics, but dates and locations aren't available yet.

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