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EPC commissioner still dissatisfied with vaccine allocation, calls for investigation

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EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez is calling for an investigation of the state health department to determine why the county continues to get fewer doses of the COVID-19 vaccine than it should.

Gonzalez discussed the matter at Tuesday's Board of Commissioners meeting. He was outspoken when he first expressed his concern a month ago, and had strong words again Tuesday.

"I'm calling for an investigation of or within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to explain why this is happening," he said.

Gonzalez said the situations has become worse, not better, since the matter came to light a month ago.

"We had a deficit of 50,000 doses then," he said. "Although we've gotten more since, we're still 75,000 doses below where we should be. I never received a response to my first request from the CDPHE, and I'm hoping to get one this time."

If he doesn't, Gonzalez said that he will speak with the county attorney about possibly taking legal action.

"Looking at the state's own COVID dashboard, it's clear that the state has failed in its promise to make up the doses we're being shortchanged," he said. "This shortage is completely unacceptable because it was brought to the state's attention. The distribution is even more unequal based on population. We're near the bottom in that category, while counties like Denver and Boulder -- the governor's home county -- are at the top."

Gonzalez hinted that politics may be involved because many of the state's majority Republican counties, such as El Paso, are near the bottom.

"This clearly shows why every resident of El Paso County should be angered at the governor's handling of distribution," he said. "This is clearly not an accident or a discrepancy. Is this process personal, biased or politically motivated?"

Conzalez demands that Gov. Jared Polis investigate the matter to determine why the allocation discrepancy continues in El Paso County and other counties.

"I demand that we immediately get the doses that we're not getting, and that the distribution process be made public," he said.

On Tuesday evening, Brian Spencer, spokesman for the Colorado State Joint Information Center, released the following statement:

"We are committed to distributing the vaccine efficiently and equitably, and we are working closely with county leadership and local public health agencies across the state to meet each county’s vaccine needs.  We did offer significantly more vaccines to El Paso County this week, and El Paso County will be able to successfully deploy some of them.

We have been in close communication with El Paso County Public Health this week and are doing everything we can to help them scale up and administer many more doses.  

These kinds of claims by Commissioner Gonzalez are counterproductive because both the state and the county are teaming up to get as many vaccines into arms as possible including the state is sending additional staff to add capacity for El Paso in addition to making doses available."

During Tuesday's meeting, commissioners criticized Polis for changing the vaccination schedule last week to move back some essential workers, including social workers at county Department of Human Services offices across the state.

"Those workers are in close contact with the public every day," said Commissioner Cami Bremer. "It meant that 400 appointments had to be canceled. It's really hard to stay focused on recovery when things keep changing on a massive scale."

Lawrence Martinez, a community activist, said that the ongoing situation will make it harder for minorities to learn about and acquire the vaccine.

"The state's four poorest ZIP codes are in El Paso County," he said. "That means they get no representation as far as getting the vaccine. At that level of income, it's hard to tell someone to go online or call when they can't afford computer, or Internet service or a phone."

However, Martinez gave the county credit for having more language translators in some clinics, and for not requiring vaccine recipients to have ID.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.


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