Here's what to expect at the Pueblo mass vaccine clinic at the Colorado State Fairgrounds

Heather Willard
The Pueblo Chieftain

During the past week, the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment, along with community partners such as the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office, has been transitioning control of the city's mass vaccine clinic to a state-chosen company and changing vaccination and testing sites within the city.

Beginning Friday, Centura Health took over administering first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the drive-up clinic located at the Colorado State Fairgrounds. The new caregivers are part of Gov. Jared Polis' "Vaccines for All" plan. 

Pueblo's mass vaccination clinic, located in parking lots of the Colorado State Fairgrounds, will hopefully at one point be able to distribute about 6,000 doses of vaccine per day. The first-day goal was only half that, to help ease anyone's frustration if the process was slower than planned.

No more will the link for the Health Department or the phone number previously publicized be utilized to obtain a vaccine appointment. Instead, individuals can sign up online at primarybio.com/l/centuramassvaccine, or call 720-263-5737.

One item of concern from the Pueblo community was whether the clinic would be as efficient and easy to navigate as the clinic operated by the local health department.

Public health director Randy Evetts said on March 12 that the company would be held to the same standard of a patient taking about an hour to go through the process.

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That held true, at least Friday morning. As patients arrived about 8:45 a.m. for 9 a.m. appointments, they were directed to a dirt lot on Gaylord Avenue located between West Northern Avenue and West Mesa Avenue.

Each vehicle's occupants were checked in by workers with tablets and sent across the street in groups that were shepherded by Pueblo County sheriffs deputies.

The lines of cars snaked across the fairgrounds parking lot to a group of a few dozen open-air tents for the vaccinators and other workers to manage the vaccine doses, paperwork and other necessary items.

One by one, cars were asked to pull up and a vaccinator confirmed the occupant's information was still accurate, and administered the shot.

The patients were then directed to a waiting section where EMTs and FEMA workers asked anyone who had gotten a shot to wait for 15 minutes, in case any immediate side-effects presented.

Pueblo site part of a statewide plan

There are six mass vaccination sites that the state, in conjunction with FEMA, will be running. The hope is that with federal input and leadership, there will be a known number of vaccine doses available and a smoother rollout of the vaccinations for the general public.

If all goes according to plan, all Coloradans 16-years-old and older will have access to sign up for a vaccination by April, with an additional goal of having all who want vaccines to be fully vaccinated by the end of June.

Currently, those in Phase 1B.4 are eligible for the vaccine, having been granted the eligibility on March 19. The group includes frontline retail workers, individuals with complicating medical conditions and anyone 50-years-old and older, among a few other categories.

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Gov. Polis attended the first day at the Larimer County mass vaccination site opening, and noted that the overall goal is to "get more shots into arms and work to end the pandemic in Colorado."

“Sites like this one will play an integral role in distributing this lifesaving vaccine to all Coloradans who want one," Polis said in a press release. "Each dose administered means we are all a day closer towards returning back to our Colorado way of life.”

The six state-run vaccine sites are being set up in Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Denver's Ball Arena, Grand Junction, Commerce city and Larimer County. 

Polis also extended the COVID-19 Dial Framework this month, which ranks counties in five levels of public health danger, through April 16. 

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Currently, the PDPHE has reported 15,387 positive and probable cases of COVID-19.

In the past week, the average number of cases in a two-week period has dropped from about 27 cases to an average of about 19 cases.

Health Department officials also warn that the vaccine is not an "off-switch" for the pandemic. Although the vaccine is an important step toward allowing life to begin to reach a new normal, mask-wearing and sanitization efforts should carry on.

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The vaccine will stimulate the creation of antibodies within individuals, but it takes a few weeks for the antibodies to build up sufficiently to act as a protection. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, those who have received both doses of the vaccine (or the single shot of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine), can safely gather indoors without physically distancing or wearing masks.

However, until more is known, it is recommended that fully-vaccinated adults continue to wear masks and maintain a 6-foot distance from people in other households.

Chieftain reporter Heather Willard can be reached via email at Hwillard@chieftain.com or on Twitter: @HeatherDWrites.