Under the leadership of Lake County Public Health Agency, Lake County has become an exemplary success story for Colorado, and the nation, with its COVID vaccination roll-out. This unprecedented community vaccination program was a model of coordination, communication and ingenuity from the teams responsible for its creation and implementation.
Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger was the first in Lake County, Colorado to proudly get her COVID-19 vaccination and since then many others have rolled up their sleeves to follow suit. Also known as Dr. Lisa, or Dr. Z, she is the owner/physician of Rocky Mountain Family Practice, chief medical officer at St. Vincent Health and the public health officer for Lake County.
“My roles in almost every aspect of the medical care delivery system in Lake County make me a single point of coordination,” says Dr. Lisa. “And since Leadville and Lake County are a small, tight-knit community, the communication and contact with its residents and at-risk seniors was far more efficient than it can be larger communities or urban areas.”
Working Through the Phases
As of the final week of January 2021, Lake County completed the first round of two vaccination doses, following Colorado’s COVID vaccination plan for the group 1A. The phased program began early in the month, with the forecasted roll-out continuing into spring and summer for all populations.
Phase 1A was targeted to highest-risk healthcare workers and individuals; and Phase 1B.1 focused on Coloradans ages 70+ and moderate-risk healthcare workers (See the phase chart below, or here.)
Lake County Public Health Agency, Rocky Mountain Family Practice (RMFP) and St. Vincent Health (SVH) have successfully administered the first of two vaccinations to everyone who falls into the Phase 1 category in the state’s plan.
A Collaborative Approach
“We just work very well together. We have one of the best and most efficient healthcare delivery systems in Colorado,” says Dr. Lisa.
She cites the national news with daily stories showing the difficulties that many communities face: inadequate vaccine supply, long lines and long drives for some populations. With these barriers, as many communities across Colorado and the nation are challenged to get the Phase 1 roll-out complete—or in some cases even get the process going—Dr. Zwerdlinger is proud of the distinctions that have made Lake County’s initial vaccination efforts different and extraordinarily effective.
Lake County Public Health Agency administered vaccinations for medical workers and first responders while RMFP and SVH data-mined, opened their phone lines and prepared to vaccinate the high-risk senior population.
This resourceful outreach system started with a voter registration list of 600+ individuals, overlaid with patient registrations at SVH and RMFP totaling just over 500, and then the senior center list of about 70. In total, about 700 first responders and medical professionals, and just over 400 seniors, have been vaccinated to date.
Representatives from various Lake County organizations and agencies have also jumped in. Lake County Office of Emergency Management has been an essential communications partner. The Lake County Public Library, Full Circle of Leadville and Lake County Build a Generation have generously facilitated Spanish translation of messaging and press releases.
No Shortage of Praise
“Colleen is a gift. She and Jane have figured out how to organize the process in a timely fashion with the three places to receive the vaccine,” says Dr. Lisa, referring to Colleen Nielsen, RN, BSN and Director of Lake County Public Health Agency, and public health nurse, Jane Cole.
She also credits the staff and providers at RMFP, and St. Vincent Health for coordinating the vaccinations for prioritized ages. St. Vincent Ambulance services even went into people’s homes to administer the vaccine for home-bound patients.
Following Governor Polis’s mandate, the next phase of vaccinations starts February 8 in Lake County. In Phase 1B.2, Coloradans ages 65-69, pre-K-12 educators and childcare workers in licensed childcare programs are next in line to receive the vaccine.
Dr. Lisa is adamant that we can end the pandemic by getting vaccinated. Yet, she stresses even those vaccinated must continue to take precautions, wear masks, avoid gathering with others, and wash their hands frequently.
The vaccine administered in Lake County is the Moderna brand, which can be stored in a regular freezer, versus the Pfizer variety that requires storage at about negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit. “We don’t have that kind of cold storage here in Lake County,” says Dr. Lisa with a smile. “Although you wouldn’t know that going outside.”