The Colorado State Board of Health voted in an emergency session on Monday to mandate vaccines for healthcare workers in high risk settings. KSUT’s Sarah Flower spoke with San Juan Basin Public Health about this, and recent hospital surges in our weekly Covid-19 update.

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Sarah Flower  00:00
Hi, I’m Sarah Flower with KSUT News. Today we are joined by Liane Jollon, the Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health for our weekly COVID-19 update. Last night, the State Board of Health voted in an emergency session that Colorado healthcare workers at almost 4000, licensed facilities across the state, now must be vaccinated against COVID-19, giving it the deadline of the end of October. Let’s talk about what this means and the Governor’s request to do so now.

Liane Jollon  00:36
The State Board of Health was asked to do some emergency interim rulemaking and it was at the direction of Governor Polis to do this interim rulemaking so that people that work in health care facilities that are regulated by the State Board of Health, will be required to be vaccinated to make sure that when people come in for healthcare, or they’re in congregate settings or long term care facilities, that they actually know that the people that are treating them are best protected for COVID-19. And also less likely than to be spreading infection themselves. So again, the governor made a request to the State Board of Health, for the health care facilities that the State Board of Health regulates, to require vaccines for all personnel.

Sarah Flower  01:28
And this includes birth centers, and mental health, ambulance, who else is included that we’re not catching here.

Liane Jollon  01:35
it includes any kind of health care facility. So some of what you’ve listed are just specific types of health care facilities. It also includes long term care facilities. So sometimes we forget that nursing homes and rehab are also part of this system. So what we know is some of you know, our most vulnerable people are in these circumstances, and we want them to be protected. We also don’t want someone delaying health care, because they’re concerned that they may not be safe in a healthcare setting. I think the last piece of information about this, which is really important is that this is happening now. Because last week, the FDA completed a full investigation of 1000s upon 1000s of reviews of safety for the Pfizer vaccine, then authorized a full approval after the review of all this information. So because the FDA has deemed this a fully approved vaccine, it’s no longer under emergency use. This is the Pfizer vaccine for individuals over 16. It gives the Governor a good opportunity to ask the State Board of Health to do this. And it’s a really important signal. If the State Board of Health is requiring this for health care facilities all across the state of Colorado to protect vulnerable populations, we’re really lucky that this vaccine is actually available to everyone. So if you haven’t gotten in and gotten vaccinated yet, you know, this is a really good sign that people believe that it has been studied, it is safe, and this is a way forward to protect you from severe outcomes or hospitalizations, or even death should you be exposed to COVID-19

Sarah Flower  03:21
Liane this idea of a vaccine mandate really has been a hot button issue throughout the country. And now that it’s FDA approved, it’s more likely to be mandated in certain settings. Vaccine mandates are nothing new to anybody going to college right now or signing up for camps for kids or going to school. Why has this vaccine in particular, had people so on edge?

Liane Jollon  03:45
Oh, I think that this entire pandemic has everyone really on edge, right? We’ve had to do things over the last 18 to 20 months, as Americans, as neighbors, as family members, as you know schoolmates, right? We got to do really different things. We’ve asked people to really examine things that maybe weren’t on the forefront of their brains before this pandemic, right. But the reality is we have lots of diseases that have been identified as vaccine preventable. And in lots of circumstances, those vaccines then become required for entry into school for attendance at college. Some of them become required for employment in health care facilities. This is all things that you know, have been happening for decades to keep people safe and it saves lives.

Sarah Flower  04:37
On the note of vaccine mandates and health care settings, is across the state we’re seeing really high numbers of those that are hospitalized with COVID-19. Some even setting up the surge capacities that we saw at the end of 2020. What is that looking like right now today.

Liane Jollon  04:54
The state of Colorado has set up the Transfer Center at level one, so it is the beginning of activation of the system to help provide faster transfers from hospital to hospital, should a hospital run out of capacity, or should an individual need a higher level of care that is available in their local hospital. Many of our local rural hospitals regularly transfer people for higher levels of care to other facilities. What we’re finding right now is that across the state, our hospitals are over 80% full. What we have reported at this time is well over 700 people currently hospitalized in Colorado. And these are conditions that are similar to November of last year, when we were entering the winter surge, where we were concerned that we were going to exceed hospital capacity across the state. So anecdotally, we are hearing from many local hospitals, especially those in the western slope, and in the Four Corners region, that individuals are being significantly delayed if they show up at a local hospital and need a higher level of care. There are instances where people are waiting 10, 12, 14 hours for the hospital that they showed up at to find them the care that they need at another hospital. So this is, you know, a very concerning turn of events that we are going through this at the end of the summer, or the fall of 2021.

Sarah Flower  06:33
Liane Jollon with San Juan Basin Public Health, anything else you’d like to add for our listeners today?

Liane Jollon  06:38
We appreciate the opportunity to get the information out to the community. Unfortunately, we are still seeing rising case numbers across the country for people who have not yet gotten vaccinated. And unfortunately, this is turning into high numbers of hospitalizations, you know, here in Colorado and in surrounding states. So the best thing that you can do to protect yourself, protect your family members is go in and get vaccinated if you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet. But we’re also asking people at this time to mask up in public indoor spaces, because we really want to bring down the level of infection that’s floating around our community because we have kids back in school. We want to keep them in school. We want that in person learning. We have the college opening, we have lots of really great things that people are looking forward to, and we don’t want infection getting in the way of that and you know, we have control over that. So Let’s all try to do the right thing and keep up the good work.

Sarah Flower  07:41
Liane, thanks so much for your time today and every Tuesday here on KSUT for our weekly COVID-19 update.