Colorado has nearly 36,000 child care workers who will be eligible for their first COVID shot starting Monday when the state opens vaccinations to educators and people 65 to 69.
So, how will child care providers — many of them small businesses with limited administrative support — get shots in arms at a time when vaccine demand outstrips supply?
County health departments are answering that question in different ways around the state. Some, including those in Weld and Boulder are matching every licensed child care provider — both child care centers and home-based child cares — with a vaccine provider who will help schedule shots for their staff. Others, such as the Tri-County Health Department, which covers Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties, are leaving it up to child care providers to select a local vaccination site and self-schedule vaccine appointments.
Gov. Jared Polis, in a press conference Tuesday, said the state will have enough doses to cover the 120,000 people in the educator category over a three-week period starting Feb. 8 — a time frame that some local public health officials have questioned.
“We will have the vaccines to meet the full need of those who work in early childhood, day care, education,” he said.
“It is very likely that the larger and more organized school districts will … be setting this up in week one or two, and that might mean that your small [child care] provider who has to set it up themselves might be in that third week.”
Scott Bright, who heads ABC Child Development Centers in Weld County, said he’s encouraged that his staff will soon get access to the vaccine. County health officials there said vaccine providers — probably primary care offices, pharmacies, and the health department — will contact child care providers directly to set up appointments.
“I’m glad to see that folks are recognizing that child care is every bit as essential as any other business,” Bright said. “Having us at least being on an equal schedule or playing field with K through 12 educators is at least something.”
Bright said he has about 150 employees at 20 child care, preschool and school-aged care sites, who will be eligible to get the vaccines starting Monday. He expects most of them will want the shot, but he won’t require them to get it.
Early childhood leaders expect child care workers will vary in their eagerness to get COVID shots.
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Kristine Koltiska, executive director of the Early Childhood Education Association of Colorado, said getting vaccinated is “front and center” for some of her group’s members — often driven by parents’ coronavirus concerns.
Other members of the association, which serves private providers, are more focused on keeping their doors open than getting vaccinated, she said.
Women of color, who make up a large share of child care workers, may be more hesitant about getting the vaccine. While 72% of white adults said they’d get the vaccine according to a January report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, that proportion was 71% for Hispanic adults and 63% for Black adults. Some public health officials and early childhood councils aim to combat hesitancy by sharing information with providers on vaccine safety and common misconceptions.
For Colorado child care workers who want COVID shots, specifics vary by community, with more options, possibly including pop-up clinics in some places, likely to be unveiled in the coming weeks.
In Boulder County, health officials plan to match about 2,500 child care providers with a vaccine provider, probably a local hospital. Each provider will get a letter explaining how to register for a vaccine appointment. That letter will also function as confirmation that the provider is eligible for the vaccine in the current phase.
In the three counties covered by Tri-County Health, guidance sent to child care providers says vaccine providers may require proof of employment, such as pay stubs or an employer letter. The state’s Office of Early Childhood planned to send such a verification letter to every provider this week. State help is also available for child care providers, schools or districts that need help coordinating vaccinations.
Katie O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the Larimer County health department, said while some of the coming vaccine supplies will be reserved specifically for the educator group, the three-week timeline outlined by Polis is unrealistic.
“Where is the math?” she said. Even for the existing phase, which includes people over 70, “We are not getting enough vaccine to cover it.”
Larimer County child care providers can join the vaccine queue by filling out an interest form detailing how many staff members need vaccines and key contact information for a lead employee. As vaccine doses become available, hospitals, clinics, or pharmacies with the necessary number of doses to accommodate the child care facility will reach out with appointment slots.
O’Donnell said many child care center leaders have already filled out the interest form, but the county is still doing outreach to ensure that small in-home providers know to submit the form, too.
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That’s a group Emily Bustos, CEO of Denver’s Early Childhood Council, is worried about when it comes to vaccine access. In-home providers are often sole proprietors who care for children all day, plus handle all other aspects of running their businesses.
“They’re stretched so thin. They barely have time to answer the phone,” she said.
Home-based child care providers need night and weekend options for vaccine appointments because many don’t have substitutes to cover for them on weekdays, Bustos said.
Johmie Perrigo, a licensed provider who cares for her toddler son and four other young children in her Lakewood home, is one of the lucky ones. Her sister can substitute for her when she’s absent.
But Perrigo doesn’t plan to call on her quite yet. Two parents of children in her care felt “pretty sick” after their second dose of the vaccine and she wants to bide her time.
People can get headaches, muscle aches, chills, and fever for a few days after their COVID shots, with “with more pronounced discomfort after the second dose,” according to the state health department website.
“I’m planning on it, but I do kind of want to give it a minute,” Perrigo said. “I’d like to be one of the later groups of people.”