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Health & Science

San Juan Basin Public Health update, November 2, 2021

Child getting Covid vaccine

The CDC meets today to discuss approval for the COVID vaccine for kids. This comes at a time when hospitalizations in Colorado are the highest they’ve been all year. KSUT talks with Liane Jollon of San Juan Basin Public Health about what both of these factors mean for Southwest Colorado.

Interview transcript:

Sarah Flower 
Liane, there was huge news this past week and much anticipation by parents across the nation from the FDA about their approval of COVID vaccines for 5 to 11 year olds. How are you and your team at San Juan Basin, handling this news and preparing for the CDC meeting this week?

Liane Jollon
Well, the FDA did their part, which is they have agreed that these vaccines, the pediatric dose for 5 to 11 year olds, the evidence submitted by Pfizer indicates that these are very safe and very effective for 5 to 11 year olds to not get severely ill from COVID 19 and potentially interrupt chains of transmission. So this is great news. It's not the period on the end of the sentence yet, though, what happens is this week the CDC meets and there will be additional information coming from the CDC. We expect that information by the end of this week. And we really do expect that as early as Friday, we could be offering pediatric doses to 5 to 11 year olds, at the San Juan Basin Public health vaccine sites that are state supported, as well as all kinds of other providers in our jurisdiction. So we have ordered enough vaccine, we have the vaccine on hand, we're just waiting for the CDC to give the green light and 5 to 11 year olds can start coming in.

The states say that they had ordered enough for 30% of that demographic from 5 to 11 year olds to be vaccinated in the coming weeks, as soon as that gets approved from the CDC. If it does, and they're hoping to do 50% of 5 to 11 year olds, the state is to get them vaccinated by January of 2022. Does San Juan Basin have a goal like that - you guys try to reach those numbers for demographics like this, and in children.

We have enough vaccine for all 5 to 11 year olds, and we'd like to see them all come in, because what we want is to keep kids in school and keep kids safe and healthy. And what we've seen is we really need a layered approach in schools. That includes vaccine. We have schools in Southwest Colorado right now that have closed to in-person learning and are planning on being closed for a couple of weeks. And we have kids in neighboring counties that are hospitalized right now. At least half a dozen kids and we have staff members in schools hospitalized. So if you were to ask me what San Juan Basin Public Health can do, it's to get all of our 5 to 11 year olds protected so that they can stay safe, stay healthy and stay in school.

Let's talk about this hospitalization factor. We are at an alarming rate for hospitalizations across the state. Liane, last week, Governor Polis had a guideline of what he's going to do for hospitalizations, including stopping elective surgeries, patient transfers, crisis care standards. What does that look like for you and your team? And can you break that down for what that means for people here in Southwest Colorado?

I think the biggest takeaway is that what's happening in Colorado right now is very different than what we're hearing on the national news about what's happening in other states. So lots of states are coming down off of their Delta wave, and are reporting far fewer cases than they were a month ago. Colorado, unfortunately, is one of about half a dozen states that are trending the opposite direction. So we here in Colorado, have more people in the hospital today than we've seen since December of 2020, when we were in the height of our winter wave last year. So we are in a very, very serious situation in Colorado, both with transmission and with hospitalizations. We currently have 1200 people across the state in the hospital. And most regions in the state are reporting no more ICU beds available. So with this, the governor has had to look at what may be happening next, if we were to breach health care capacity. So this is that really scary thing that we've been talking about now for 21 months, which is what happens if too many people are sick at once to get Covid. So the executive orders that have come out of the governor's office this week, actually allow for the activation of crisis standards of care, should they become necessary. And what this means is that we could potentially head into a phase of this pandemic, where there's not enough ICU beds, there's not enough ventilators. There's not enough capacity for hospitals to operate the way that they normally do, where everyone is able to get health care. So crisis standards of care, do things like allow hospitals to change staffing. They do things that allow hospitals to choose who would get a ventilator and an ICU bed, and who might not. Because they would not be as likely to do well from these medical interventions. So this is a really, really scary prospect to be working in healthcare, when crisis standards get employed. It's not what anyone wants. We want to be able to go to a hospital if we need hospital care, and know that we're going to get the very best things done to improve our health and save our lives. And crisis standards means that not everyone will get that

I was on a call last week with New Mexico Department of Health as well as this past week with Colorado's doing a COVID-19 update, and a big question that has been asked through state health officials across the region is why with two regions, New Mexico and Colorado, both having relatively high vaccination rates, are cases going up this high and state epidemiologists don't really know this yet. Do you have any predictions of why our case numbers are so high when our vaccination rates are high as well?

I think we've been doing this together for a really long time, responding to a pandemic, and you and I talking about it every week. And one of the things that we know to be true, is that this novel virus continues to surprise and take twists and turns that are unexpected. So there was tremendous hope that when vaccines became available, we can back off of some of the other precautions, masking, social distancing, you know, gathering indoors, and we would rely on the vaccine to bring the case rate down. And ultimately, the virus outfoxed us. And that's not what happened, right? We still need a layered approach. We need vaccines. And we need some of these other precautions that we need to keep those in place. Because the transmission rates are so high, the virus appears to kind of symbolically do its own thing, and catches all the scientists and all the doctors off guard. And again, it's also really interesting that, you know, most states in the union right now are on the downside of cases. Yet we're one of about a half a dozen states that are on a steep, steep increase in cases. It makes it all really hard. It makes it hard for people to know what to do. It makes it hard for the messaging. It makes it hard to keep track of. And we're just really thankful that we have this opportunity to have ongoing dialogue with the community and say, look, the national news is saying right now our cases are down. But that's not what's happening here. Our cases are up. We have evidence right now that one out of 50 Coloradans is currently infectious, even with our high vaccine rate.


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