By Alan Gionet

LAKEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – Stride Community Health is making older adults a priority in their new coronavirus vaccination program but getting the doses they need is a challenge. Stride has been a pillar in COVID-19 testing sites across the Denver metro area and now they’re expanding to vaccines.

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“I feel great. Just great,” said 72-year-old Tom Lukich of Evergreen.

A retired teacher, who still does some subbing at Evergreen High School he waited by his car as Stride Community Health workers kept an eye on him for 15 minutes before sending him on his way.

Lukich signed up on the Stride website when he found it and became the first person over 70 not in a long-term care facility to get a vaccine in a vaccination event at the JeffCo Stadium parking lot Friday afternoon.

“They said, ‘You’re registered’ and I said, ‘Well, now what do I do?’ They called an hour later and said, ‘Are you ready to get your vaccine tomorrow?’ and I said, ‘Yeah!’”

There were only 105 vaccinations planned for this first day, which became a sort of test after Stride came to realize there simply isn’t enough vaccine yet to kick off a big program to vaccinate people over 70.

“These are really hard, you have to make sure you have the exact count of people, that people show up in a specific amount of time. That they’re all registered properly,” said Allison Draayer, director of community care for Stride Community Health.

Draayer has planned other vaccination events in the past and works on coordinating Stride’s mass testing sites in the Denver metro area. In the morning on Friday, the JeffCo Stadium site had been doing tests, but switched to vaccines for just 2½ hours in the afternoon. Things went smoothly.

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“We need to get a feel for how many we’re able to do. How many that we can handle for the future.”

Part of her difficulty with the population of people over 70, is getting to them with information.

“We don’t know what their literacy is with electronics and we’re really geared, obviously because of COVID to electronics and that might not be what they are used to using.”

Late Friday night, Stride got word, that it would in fact be able to get enough doses to do a larger vaccination event in Aurora on Saturday, Jan. 16. Earlier in the evening, Stride did not know if there would be enough vaccines coming in. But work began immediately to plan vaccinations for 500 people at Smoky Hill High School on Jan. 16. Sign-ups will be through the Stride website.

“We’d take as many as people would give us,” she explained. “We’ve really gone through COVID to plan for stuff like this. So we have enough staff, we have enough people who know how to work these clinics. We really want to vaccinate the community we just need the vaccine.”

Draayer suggested that people try to sign up and they’ll do their best to contact people as soon as possible.

“They are able to sign up if they are interested, then we will reach out to them and try and walk them through the process.”

That too, Stride is finding out, can be labor intensive. The phone conversations with some, take a good deal of time. But the health care non-profit is patient.

“What I try and do is I try and imagine the 85-year-old woman that’s living with you, her family that doesn’t have access to the internet and is non-English or Spanish speaking. That’s who I need to think about and then the rest may follow,” said Draayer.

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They know the job is big with an estimated 562,000 Coloradans over 70 in the group. But it is rewarding.

“They want to go and experience life and not have to be cooped up in their house all day and I think getting this vaccine out there will allow people to go back to normal life.”

Many of those vaccinated Friday, talked about getting out again.

“My grandkids you know, play football. Got one in college. I want to go to the games,” said 82-year-old Russell Anderson of Centennial as he got his shot.

“I want to go have dinner with my family. Hug them, kiss them. Give them a big hug. I miss them all,” said 75-year-old Susan Beckwith of Lakewood.

You can register at Stride Community Health to get more information about a vaccine appointment as they become available.

Alan Gionet