Loveland Health Care Worker Gets Colorado's First COVID-19 Vaccine
As Kevin Londrigan rolled up his right sleeve and prepared to become the first person in Colorado to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, he thought of his colleagues in the intensive care unit.
For nine months, they had fought to save patients’ lives. They scavenged PPE, improvised treatments and worked long shifts on the front lines of a pandemic that has killed more than 3,000 Coloradans.
“This vaccine isn’t the end of it,” said Londrigan, who works as a respiratory therapist at Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland. “But it is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
On Monday, he and 30 of his colleagues briefly stepped away from their roles to join the swath of health care workers across the country receiving the first doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.
The vaccinations, which took place inside a makeshift vaccine clinic at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, offered a glimpse into the state’s final chapter of battling the pandemic -- a massive effort to inoculate millions of residents, starting with frontline health care workers. Many who were among the first in line said it was a hopeful moment in an otherwise brutal year.
“This is a really exciting day, but this will not change what we’re doing,” said Dr. Diana Breyer, a physician at Poudre Valley who was also vaccinated. “We're still going to be wearing the same protective personal protective equipment and it won't change our behaviors, but I think that this is bringing some hope that we're going to get through this.”
Breyer, who also serves as UCHealth’s chief quality officer in Northern Colorado, said while she was getting her shot, the floor she oversees was still completely full with COVID patients.
“We have been waiting for a light,” Breyer said. “And this feels like that light.”
The vaccines arrived earlier in the day, on a FedEx truck.
In a Facebook video capturing the event, Gov. Jared Polis cheered as the doorbell rang inside a loading bay at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in Denver.
He opened the door, and a delivery man asked him to sign for the vaccines.
“I’ve been waiting to do this signature for nine months,” Polis said.
A staff member from CDPHE placed the large white box containing 975 vaccine doses onto a metal cart. They then wheeled the vaccines into a state lab, where he and Polis quickly unboxed the doses and placed them in an ultra-cold freezer for storage.
Polis called their arrival a “triumph of modern science” and said he hoped the story of the vaccine’s record-setting development speed would inspire a “new generation” of young scientists in Colorado and across the country.
“This vaccine, once it’s widely distributed, will end this pandemic here in Colorado, across the United States and across the world,” Polis said.
The box represented one piece of the state’s first order of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines from the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed. Colorado is expected to receive 46,800 doses by mid-week.
Pfizer’s vaccine must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures -- which not all hospitals in Colorado have the ability to do. To help with distribution, the state has chosen eight regional “hubs” to help keep vaccines chilled properly.
Once they’re removed from the special freezers and diluted, they must be used within six hours.
“Everybody is moving as fast as we can understanding that this was authorized on Friday,” said Scott Bookman, Colorado’s COVID-19 incident commander. “We’re still getting more guidance as we speak.”
The state has also placed a larger order for a shipment of roughly 96,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine, which could arrive as soon as next week. Both vaccines require two doses roughly a month apart to work.
Bookman, who was present at the vaccine delivery Monday morning, said Moderna’s vaccine would be easier to handle because it can be kept at warmer temperatures (as opposed to Pfizer’s -75 degree Celsius).
“That’s a much simpler vaccine to deal with,” Bookman said. “It’s kept at freezing temperatures that are more consistent with normal vaccines and it comes in smaller allocations, so we’ll be able to do direct shipments (to hospitals and healthcare providers).”
It’s still unclear exactly when the general public will get access to vaccines.
In anticipation of this week’s rollout, Colorado published a new vaccine prioritization plan. It lists frontline health care workers and nursing home residents as the highest priority.
As supply increases into next year, vaccines will be made available to various groups of essential workers through medical clinics and retail pharmacies. Then, probably sometime next summer, the general public will get access.
Kevin Londrigen, the Loveland respiratory therapist, said being first on the state’s list gave him some peace of mind after an “emotionally exhausting” year.
As a nurse plunged a syringe into his arm, a crowd including medical staff and Gov. Polis cheered on.
Londrigen has several pre-existing conditions, including diabetes, which puts him at a greater risk of severe complications from COVID-19.
He also wants to show friends and family that getting the vaccine isn't a big deal, he said.
“I think it’s safe. It’s had the research. It’s had clinical trials,” Londrigen said. “I feel safer about coming home to my family at night. I hope the rest of my family will get the vaccine after seeing me get one.”