CHEYENNE – Residents age 70 and older will soon be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, as Phase 1b of Laramie County’s distribution plan is underway.

Vaccinations are expected to begin for residents 70 and older by the week of Feb. 1, as part of 1b’s sub-group 3.

According to Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department Director Kathy Emmons, people in that age group will be contacted by their primary care provider to schedule an appointment if their provider is a Cheyenne Regional Medical Center partner. Those over age 70 who haven’t heard from their provider will be able to schedule their own appointment online through the health department’s website (tinyurl.com/CLCHDcovid); Emmons said online scheduling is expected to open up for this priority group Jan. 25.

For veterans, Emmons recommended getting in touch with the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which will also administer vaccines to the 70-plus priority group.

The progression into the Phase 1b category came faster than the health department expected, which Emmons said was due to the process becoming more efficient. From previous estimations, Phase 1b should’ve started in another week or two, but vaccinations have already begun for the first two priority groups in that category – hospital staff, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel.

“We really have gotten things moving well, and it’s going to continue to get faster,” Emmons said. “I know we’re not going as fast as everybody wants, but we’re going as fast as we possibly can. We will expedite as we roll along, so I’m just really asking for people’s patience, and to continue to wear their face masks for just a little bit longer.”

If the pace of administering vaccines continues to get faster through February, Emmons said the 1b priority group could be completed by the end of March. Vaccination efforts began on Dec. 15 in Wyoming and rolled out more slowly than some would’ve hoped, which has been true across the country. Still, Emmons said they’re trending in the right direction.

On Jan. 5, only 35% of the vaccines received by the state were administered. But by Tuesday, Jan. 12, that number jumped to 57.7%, reflecting a speedier administering of vaccines across the state. (Though those numbers could be delayed up to 72 hours, according to the Wyoming Department of Health website. These numbers also do not include doses received or administered by F.E. Warren Air Force Base, the Cheyenne VA Medical Center or tribal groups.)

While there isn’t county-specific data at this point, Emmons said the percentage of vaccines administered statewide is also a “fair estimate” for Laramie County.

But even with the situation looking better, administering the COVID-19 vaccine still comes with a host of issues. For something like the flu, Emmons said a variety of places like grocery stores and pharmacies are authorized to give flu shots.

“That’s not the case with COVID,” Emmons said. “With COVID, you have to go through all of these other processes to be approved by the Department of Health, in order to be a provider of the COVID vaccine. We just don’t have the number of agencies providing vaccines that we normally do, and that’s what’s causing so much bottlenecking – there’s just a few of us that can do it right now.”

Emmons said a few pharmacies are close to gaining that authorization from the state, so the process will become more efficient once more places can help with administering the vaccine.

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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