Rio Grande County Public Health answers youth vaccine concerns

RIO GRANDE COUNTY — Residents of Rio Grande County expressed concern pertaining to youth ages 12 to 17 receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) without a parent or guardian present at the time of injection.

According to Tricia Slater, a concerned citizen, the CDPHE vaccine booth that was set up during the annual SLV Potato Festival in Monte Vista during the weekend of Sept. 11 was allowing youth 12 and up to receive the vaccine with only phone-audio parental consent and were offering those willing to be vaccinated a $100 incentive.

People approached CDPHE nurses that were onsite and voiced their trepidations with the process. It was later confirmed that CDPHE or any other public health agency can administer vaccines to youth 12 and up with consent granted via phone.

In response to those concerns, Rio Grande Public Health Department Director Dr. Kolawole Bankole stated that his department would never allow the vaccination of youth 12 and up without the consent of the parent-guardian and that the department was the hosting agency during the SLV Potato Festival.

“This was done by CDPHE under State authority. The County though hosted the state, we did not administer vaccinations during that event. We hosted CDPHE, the technical details about that event were handled by the state agency. I would never go against a parent’s wishes and we can lay this inquiry to rest,” said Bankole during a special meeting held by Rio Grande County Commissioners on Monday, Sept. 20.

According to Bankole, this is what was conveyed to him after the event.

“There were a total of 54 vaccines administered by CDPHE at the event," he said. "Two-thirds (36) of the total were administered to adults. One-third (18) of the total were administered to youth 12-17. Out of the 18 youths, 16 had parents-guardians present and only two (2) parental consents were obtained via phone."

The following public health press release went out to the media over the weekend after additional questions posed to public health were answered.

Q: What kind of permission is needed for youth ages 12-17 to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

A: According to CDPHE rules for vaccine providers, if a parent is not able to be present, they may send written permission or give permission by phone.

Bankole also confirmed that CDPHE does not need to have a parent physically present when a youth 12 and older are getting the vaccine.

“The State of Colorado does not require minors to be accompanied as long as parental consent is collected and shared prior to appointment," Bankole said. "The provider may also obtain consent by phone and document it in the patient’s record.”

Other concerns that were raised were whether or not the nurses approving consent via phone verified the identity of the parent or guardian giving consent, whether or not medical records were obtained by healthcare professionals prior to administering the vaccine were checked for potential issues or allergies and whether or not the youth provided correct information to healthcare providers without a parent being present.

These questions were posed to Rio Grande Public Health Department but because they only hosted CDPHE, these questions were unanswered. 

Dr. Bankole stated that he was concerned about misinformation being spread about the vaccination process and the kind of vaccine used during this event and that all efforts were being made to ensure the safety of youth seeking the vaccine.

During the special meeting held by the Rio Grande County Board of Health, two motions were approved that will improve communications of real-time numbers pertaining to COVID-19 cases in the County as well as include public communications through media outlets that will provide the most accurate information to the communities of Rio Grande County.

Once the Board of Health adjourned, the Rio Grande Commissioners voted and approved a resolution that will be drafted in the coming days that prohibits any type of mandate for either masks or vaccination in any of their communities.

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