Hugo’s population of 730 jumped by almost half on Friday — at least for a few hours — as hundreds of people descended on the Eastern Plains town hoping a single-dose inoculation would help put the pandemic in the rearview mirror.
The Lincoln County Fairgrounds were covered in vehicle lines for hours, from diesel pickup trucks to Tesla sedans. About 80% of the nearly 300 vaccine seekers were out-of-towners, traveling from as far away as Greeley, Boulder and Denver to receive the COVID shot.
Many heard about the event from social media pages like Colorado Vaccine Hunters, a Facebook group that helps Coloradans register for a vaccine appointment and find places that have leftover vaccines. That’s how Ruth Wight from Boulder found out about the event. She drove to Limon from Boulder the night before and stayed at a truck stop, about 15 miles from the fairgrounds.
“I woke up very early this morning to make sure I got a good place in line,” Wight said. “I was one of the first and waited two hours.”
Even though the vaccine event was open to anyone from any community, Lincoln County Public Health set up two lines to make sure any Lincoln County resident who wanted it received a dose of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine.
“We are a (county) population,of only about 5,000 people, and 900 of those are inmates at the prison in Limon,” public health director Jobeth Mills said. “We had just the right amount of doses and did not have to turn anyone away today.”
Mills attributed the crowd at the fairgrounds to the first day of vaccination phase 1B.4. As of March 19, Coloradans aged 50 and up, restaurant workers, faith leaders, manufacturing workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, essential journalists and people with certain medical risks are able to receive the COVID vaccine. It’s a large jump in eligibility that now opens the way for about 2.5 million Coloradans.
The Lincoln County Department of Public Health administered 298 J&J vaccines during the day-long event, Mills said. About 60 went to the arms of Lincoln County residents. After the lines of cars cleared, there were still about 20 doses available that Mills on Monday said were given to people the health department called to the fairgrounds.
Late last month the single dose, Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved by the FDA for emergency use against the COVID-19 virus. It is currently the only single-dose vaccine available to help protect people from the coronavirus, prompting more people to make the drive to Hugo that they wouldn’t have to repeat.
This is the third time the health department has used the J&J vaccine at an inoculation clinic.
Vaccine seekers Friday were not fazed by differing reports about the efficacy of one-shot J&J compared to Moderna and Pfizer. One measure of J&J showed 66% effectiveness in preventing all cases, compared with around 95% for the other shots. The J&J shot does much better at preventing severe cases and hospitalizations, at 86%, and no one in the trials died from the virus. Travelers to Hugo who got J&J were elated and relieved.
“I feel like I’m going to cry!” Wight said with a laugh. “I’m so happy. Wouldn’t everyone be happy?”
UPDATED: This story was updated at 10:38 a.m. Monday to explain how extra doses of the coronavirus vaccine were distributed on Friday.