Governor visits Pueblo to launch mobile vaccine clinics for underserved communities

Heather Willard
The Pueblo Chieftain

Access to health care is an issue many have raised during the push to vaccinate all Colorado residents, and now there's a statewide initiative to try and address that issue.

The state has launched four tour buses that are ADA compliant to provide mobile clinic space across rural and underserved urban communities in the state, including Pueblo County. The launch was Friday at the Avondale Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where dozens of residents attended in order to receive their vaccine. 

The shot distributed Friday through the mobile vaccine clinics was the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose. The goal of providing a one-dose vaccine is to eliminate the need to return with the mobile clinic or burden a patient with finding a way to receive their second shot from another avenue.

Friday was also the first day that anyone 16 years of age or older would be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine anywhere in the state, although anyone under 18 is limited to receiving the two-shot Pfizer vaccine. This means anyone in Pueblo age 18 and up can register for vaccines at the mass vaccination clinic at the Colorado State Fairgrounds.

Gov. Jared Polis was in Avondale and at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo Friday to speak about vaccines and launch the mobile vaccination clinics. One was planned for Lamar and La Junta on Friday before stretching out to other parts of Southern Colorado.

More:COVID-19 cases rising again in Pueblo, threatens to push county into Level Yellow

"We'll be adding two more next week, so we'll have four of these buses which will be able to serve people across the state, especially medically underserved, so some of our rural communities but also some of our urban communities where folks can't just jump in a car and head to the large sites," Polis said.

"We know that not everybody has the ability to drive and get there, and we want to make sure that everyone has the chance to get vaccinated."

The mobile clinic Friday was well attended, and Polis noted that rural health departments such as Pueblo's have been seeking extra support for medically underserved communities. Each stop of the clinic will provide between 250 and 300 doses.

"We know that there are areas where it's hard to access traditional health care," he said. "Their pharmacy might not have enough of the vaccine, so we need to help fill those gaps, and that's really the role of what's going to be this fleet of four mobile vaccination stations that we're going to run for the next two months or so."

MORE: Pueblo D60 announces middle schools will return to full in-person learning, not high schools

To see where the vaccination clinics will be, visit boxcarvax.com. That site will also offer appointment scheduling and waitlists for the mobile clinics.

Story continues below

Case averages per day crossed with the timeline from Jan. 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021.

Then and now: How much progress has the state made fighting COVID-19?

Polis expressed excitement at the progress the state has made since the start of the pandemic.

"It is so incredibly exciting to know that we are only a few months away from the end of the pandemic, but it is important for folks to know that it certainly isn't over yet," he said. "We only have about 20% of the population protected, the virus is still very widespread. About 1 in every 8 Coloradoans are contagious with it right now, so wear that mask, keep apart and don't have those get-togethers just yet."

Polis noted that about 80% of the population age 70 and older is fully vaccinated.

Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar noted at a community connections event he held Friday — during which Polis made an appearance — that the majority of hospitalizations in Pueblo currently are for younger people. He said this is evidence that the vaccine works, and encouraged Puebloans to get their vaccine and let the antibodies build up before getting together.

Polis said that there is infrastructure in place at the mass vaccine clinics previously established across the state to provide thousands of vaccines per day, but the statewide supply of vaccines has been lower than the demand. 

"Two, three months ago we were getting about 100,000 vaccines a week (at the state level)," Polis said. "Now there are over 400,000 vaccines a week. We think it will stay in the 4-500,000 range, so that means any Coloradoan that wants to get vaccinated, will be able to get vaccinated by the end of May."

However, the numbers in Pueblo are not as positive as they were a few weeks ago. Gradisar said a few weeks ago, the county average was 30 cases per 100,000 residents per week. That number has risen to about 164 cases per 100,000 residents during the span of a week.

Both politicians called the vaccination efforts a "race" against variants of the virus. Current vaccines are effective against variants that have been noted by scientists and doctors, but it's likely stronger variants may develop as the virus continues to mingle among populations.

Gov. Polis speaks in front of the first mobile COVID-19 vaccination bus in Avondale on Friday,  April 2.

The pandemic's end is in sight, but not as quickly here in Pueblo

Polis told Pueblo residents who attended the mayor's community insight event that although there is a large portion of individuals 70 and older to protect that population, the main concern still resides with younger residents and visitors of the state.

"Still, there is across the country, there is a surge right now," Polis said. "I think there's a want to throw those masks away, and we'll be there very soon, but we're not quite there yet."

He said that the Centers for Disease Control and the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment both recommend outdoor recreation and engagement over indoor events because there is better air circulation and less chance of spreading the virus or virus variants.

However, the areas with the highest population of COVID-19-positive residents remains near the ski resorts.

"We've a great agenda of working with small businesses, of trying to attract large businesses from other states right here to Southern Colorado, and that's going to be our biggest priority as — we're not there yet — as the health side is in the rearview window," Polis said.

"So that will be in the next couple months, it'll be jobs, jobs, jobs, but right now we still have to be careful because it's still about lives, lives, lives."

Cases in Pueblo County, as reported by the Pueblo Health Department, are back on the rise.

During the past week, case numbers have ranged from 22 per day to as high as 53 per day. Since the first reported case, Pueblo County has reported 15,498 cases of COVID-19. The population with the most cases of COVID-19 is the 20-29 age group, and the race experiencing the highest rate of positive cases is Hispanic individuals, with over 55% of positive cases reported as affecting a Hispanic individual.

According to the CDC, Pueblo has administered 13,904 vaccines, which means 8.3% of the county's total population is vaccinated. The current case rate has also changed the county's ranking on the CDC website to a transmission level of "high."

MORE: Pueblo Community Health Center gets $4.8M to expand COVID-19 vaccinations, primary care

Chieftain reporter Heather Willard can be reached at hwillard@chieftain.com.