More than 100,000 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in El Paso County, and officials expect that number to keep escalating following a dispute with the state over whether the community was receiving its fair share of doses.
Two weeks ago, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and public health officials claimed the county was not receiving vaccines in proportion to its population. Extra vaccine supply received from the state since then has helped the county catch up, Suthers said Friday.
"They are making it right pretty quickly," Suthers said of state officials.
The county on Thursday surpassed the 100,000 mark for vaccines administered — 100,472 shots to be precise — meaning that almost 10% of the county’s population has received at least one dose. However, the actual total is likely higher because county numbers don't include doses administered at military bases through the Department of Defense, Suthers said.
Recent large mass vaccination events have helped the county boost its numbers, including the county's first drive-in clinic last week hosted by Centura.
The county hit another milestone Friday, with half of its 70 and older population having received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to a press release from the county health department.
UCHealth, Peak Vista Community Health Centers, El Paso County Public Health and Servicios de la Raza expect to hold three clinics this weekend intended to reach more than 3,000 people total, with a focus on seniors from minority communities. The clinics provide Spanish-speaking staff, and in Peak Vista's case, Silver Key Senior Services provided free transportation.
The Servicios de la Raza team — "Services for the People" — made hundreds of phone calls to register people for the free vaccine clinic they are hosting in partnership with El Paso County and the Colorado Vaccine Equity Taskforce on Friday and Saturday. The clinic, held at El Paso County Health's newest building in Fountain, is largely focused on vaccinating people 65 and older in the monolingual Spanish-speaking community, said Julissa Soto, director of statewide services for the organization.
"We were making 200 to 400 calls a day explaining to our community why it's important to get vaccinated and talking about the myths (about the vaccine)," Soto said.
Some Latinos have expressed hesitancy about taking the COVID-19 vaccine because of misinformation they've heard about it, she said, including that the vaccine will alter DNA, will sterilize those who receive it or that it contains chlorine. Other barriers to vaccine access in the Latino community include transportation to vaccine clinics, language and cultural isolation, Soto said.
Officials said they've worked to combat misinformation about the vaccine through educational efforts, including how it works and where to receive it.
"We knew about health disparities before COVID," El Paso County Public Health Director Susan Wheelan said. "What COVID has done is really (exacerbated) and illuminated the health disparities that are experienced. ... It’s important that people are educated on the vaccine and they make the choice to determine if it’s right for them. Our role is to increase access and reduce barriers to make it easy for them to access."
County Public Health has been successful in that endeavor because of its community partnerships, she said.
"One agency cannot handle this alone," Wheelan said.
Veronica Vasquez, who received her vaccination at the clinic in Fountain, said she appreciated the county's efforts to vaccinate more people in minority populations.
"I feel good about it because I know I have the county's (support) to get what we need," Vazquez said in Spanish. Her daughter, Lizeth De La Rosa, translated.
Lawrence Epps, 68, drove to the southeast Colorado Springs Peak Vista clinic from Guffey for his vaccine after the clinic in Woodland Park overbooked and was unable to accommodate him. He was pleased to get in after trying to get vaccinated for over a month.
“I sort of lucked out on that,” said Epps, who is Black.
Councilwoman Yolanda Avila was also among those getting vaccinated Friday at Peak Vista — a clinic that many of her constituents can easily access.
“I wanted to do it here in the heart of the southeast,” she said.
Avila is working on a task force to help ensure that barriers to the vaccine — such as transportation and technology — are addressed, she said. Technology has been a particular problem because older people of color are less likely to have computers or smartphones to register online for vaccinations.
She also believes there should be a sense of urgency to reach people of color who were more deeply impacted by COVID-19 because they are more likely to be front-line workers or living in multigenerational households, she said.
“There is a disparity and it’s nationwide, statewide,” she said.
To help close the gap, she would like to see more locations offer the vaccine in the 80910 zip code, in southeast Colorado Springs.
El Paso County is also exploring hosting more vaccination events, Commissioner and Board of Public Health member Longinos Gonzalez said.