Colorado Offers, Then Cancels Feb. 6 Vaccine Program For 70-Plus People Of Color At Dahlia Center For Health and Well-Being
By Cara DeGette
A plan to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to 140 people of color over age 70 was called off with little warning in early February, leaving staff at the Dahlia Center for Health and Well-Being scrambling to notify disappointed clients that the clinic had been cancelled.
The program, offered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Equity Task Force, was to have taken place on Feb. 6.
Dawn Davenport, vice president of child and family services for the Mental Health Center of Denver, said state health officials reached out to the Dahlia Center and asked if it would host the clinic targeting an older, often underserved population. Dahlia Center staff reached out to likely candidates via churches and other networks to fill the available slots and also help the seniors figure out other logistics, including transportation.
“I’m so proud of the team stepping up,” she said. “We were so excited to sponsor people of color right in the neighborhood.”
The clinic was scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 6. Thursday afternoon Dahlia Center staff were notified that the vaccines were not available after all —that they had been “reallocated” to another, unidentified clinic.
“I felt sick,” Davenport said. “I stood here and was sick to my stomach.”
Many of the seniors, she said, had been excited and relieved to be getting vaccinated. To have to turn around and call them back and tell them the program was cancelled, she said, was heartbreaking. The seniors, she said, were “disappointed, confused and upset.” Other clinics operated elsewhere in the Denver Metro area that day, including at the National Western Complex northwest of Park Hill.
Extensive media reports have detailed the distrust that many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) have had of getting the vaccine, based on a historical distrust of government-sponsored health programs.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll, published on Jan. 14, found that nationally 35 percent of Black residents of all ages reported they would “probably not” or “definitely not” get the vaccine when offered. Among Hispanic residents, the figure was 26 percent, the same as for whites. For Blacks, 63 percent reported they would “definitely” or “probably” get the vaccine, compared to 73 percent of white people.
Davenport said that when making the initial calls to seniors, she personally encountered just one person who had been “on the fence” about getting the vaccine. “[The client] told me if you hadn’t called me back I wasn’t going to get it, but since you called me back I’m going to go ahead and do it.
“I didn’t get the sense from individuals I spoke to that they didn’t trust the vaccine,” she said. “It was more disappointment that our vaccination was going to another clinic. Everyone was looking forward to this, and so to have to cancel it was heartbreaking.”
The Dahlia Center for Health and Well-Being, at 3401 Eudora St., provides a wide array of services, including mental and physical health, child care, dental, and a food pantry and community gardens.
Another vaccination program at the Center was subsequently held later in the month, on Feb. 20. At press time it was unclear how many seniors from the first group may have received the vaccine. Health department officials did not immediately respond to an inquiry about where the Feb. 6 vaccines were reallocated.
The Feb. 6 program had been scheduled just days after both Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock underscored their commitment to prioritizing equity in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“In our current environment this is mind-boggling to me,” said Tracey MacDermott, the chair of the Greater Park Hill Community Registered Neighborhood Organization, when learning of the cancellation. “We know we have racial inequities in health care to begin with, and here we have the committed staff of the Dahlia Center jumping into action — and the state can’t manage to get vaccines there when promised? They should have worked overtime to get those vaccines there.”
On Feb. 8, Colorado Public Radio reported that Black and Latino residents have not been inoculated at anywhere near their rate of representation in the state’s population — a persistent problem in Colorado and across the nation in the first seven weeks of the vaccine rollout.
Frontline health care workers have largely been vaccinated, and about 35 percent of the state’s population of residents 70 and older have received at least one shot.
As of Feb. 19, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reports that 783,583 Coloradans have received one dose of the vaccine, and 365,220 have received the second dose. Most health care workers and anyone 65 and older are currently eligible. Of those who have received vaccinations, 74 percent are white, just over 2 percent are Black, and 5 percent are Hispanic. In the data set, the demographics for nearly 15 percent are listed as “unknown,” with small percentages of Asian, American Indian and Pacific Islanders comprising the remainder of the breakdowns.
One of the biggest complaints during the vaccine’s rollout among all demographic groups is where, and how, people can sign up for the vaccines — and when they might qualify for the shots.
The online news organization, The Colorado Sun, has a helpful tool to determine your current place in line. The free guide takes people through a set of easy questions that help people figure out the first date they currently qualify for the vaccine. Check it out online at
Finding appointments for the vaccines has also proven a confusing mishmash for many Coloradans. In February, a private citizen, Nick Muerdter, created a webpage — vaccine-finder.nickm.org — that simplifies the appointment search process. Anyone can go to the website and find individual appointments that are available at numerous pharmacies across Colorado, including Safeways, Albertson’s, Walgreens, CVF’s, Sam’s Clubs and Walmarts. The site is updated every minute.
The state has installed a 24-hour vaccination hotline — 1-877-268-2926. Call center staff cannot schedule vaccine appointments; this is more of a vaccine FAQ hotline.