‘A lifeline to normal life:’ Older adults rejoice as they begin getting coronavirus vaccines

Jan. 5, 2021
older adults are getting their coronavirus vaccines now. Joanna Moldow gives a thumbs up.
Joanna Moldow was thrilled to get her vaccine to prevent COVID-19. “The world seemed brighter and at peace,” said Moldow after nurse practitioner Amanda Young gave Moldow her vaccine at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. Photos by Cyrus McCrimmon for UCHealth.

Older adults are rejoicing as they receive vaccines to prevent COVID-19.

Thousands of older adults in Colorado have received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far. As additional supplies of vaccines continue to arrive in Colorado, health care workers at UCHealth vaccination sites will continue racing to give vaccines to people ages 70 and older.

From doctors and other medical providers who are volunteering their time to clinic workers who have been deployed to vaccine clinics from their regular assignments, UCHealth workers are supporting Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ goal of providing vaccines to 70% of people ages 70 and older by the end of February.

How older adults can get the COVID-19 vaccine through UCHealth

Vaccine coordinators for UCHealth in late December began randomly reaching out to existing patients ages 75 and older through the online patient portal, My Health Connection. Polis then allowed vaccines for people ages 70 and up.

Health care workers are trying to vaccinate as many older adults as quickly as possible. People who create My Health Connection accounts — even those who were not previously UCHealth patients — will all be part of the pool of patients who randomly will be invited to receive their vaccines. (Click here to learn how to set up a My Health Connection account.)

“There currently is not enough vaccine to provide it to everyone, even within the phase 1 groups. So, to offer the vaccine as fairly as possible, UCHealth is randomly selecting patients who are 70 years old or older to receive invitations,” said UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jean Kutner. “We encourage our patients to watch for messages which will allow them to schedule a COVID-19 vaccination. As we receive additional shipments of vaccine, we are sending out more invitations.”

For up-to-date information about UCHealth’s vaccine distribution plan, please click here. People can learn how to sign up for the online portal, how to receive invitations to schedule vaccine appointments and when to come for booster doses. No walk-ins are allowed at any vaccination locations.

“We are aware that many people may not have access to a computer or smartphone and may not be able to create a My Health Connection account,” Kutner said. “We are developing plans to help these people schedule appointments, and we also are planning clinics in underserved areas in our state to specifically offer vaccine to low income and minority communities as well as to senior living and assisted living communities.”

Kutner and others are asking people of all ages to be patient. It will take time throughout the spring and summer for adequate supplies of vaccines to be available more broadly.

Anyone younger than 70 years old will be notified when vaccinations become available for their respective phase, as directed by CDPHE.

‘The world seemed brighter and at peace’

Joanna Moldow of Denver was one of the first to receive an invite to receive a vaccine – aside from front-line health care workers, first responders and those involved in clinical trials.

Like many older adults, Moldow has barely left her home all year.

Some older adults dissolved into tears of joy as they received vaccines. Others did little dances to celebrate and keep their arms loose. Many older folks have cloistered themselves inside their homes for months and months to protect themselves from the devastating coronavirus.

Moldow was overjoyed when the time came for her to receive her first dose.

“Immediately, I felt a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, almost like I had been asleep for the last 100 years and finally awakened. The world seemed brighter and at peace,” said Moldow, a folk artist and retired physical therapist.

Coronavirus vaccines begin to flow to grateful, emotional older adults

Coronavirus vaccines for older adults in Colorado

  • People ages 70 and older are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, according to state health guidelines.
  • Patients must receive an invitation and must have appointments.
  • Walk-ins are not allowed at this time.
  • UCHealth leaders are eager to provide vaccines for as many members of the public as soon as possible in the coming weeks and months.
  • If you wish to be considered for a vaccine in the future, please create an account in My Health Connection and watch for an invitation.
  • For information about COVID-19 vaccines, please click here.
  • Do not let your guard down. Even after you get the vaccine, please continue to be very careful. Please continue to wear masks, avoid spending time with people outside of your household, wash hands well and frequently, avoid crowds and practice physical distancing whenever you are outside of your home.
  • If you have any symptoms of COVID-19 immediately isolate yourself to protect others.

While supplies of coronavirus vaccines for older adults are still very limited and insufficient to vaccinate everyone at this time, the random selection and appointment process helps ensure that the process is safe, secure and fair to everyone. Plans to offer vaccines to underserved populations and those who do not have a My Health Connection account are also being developed.

All older adults are at greater risk for getting critically ill if they get the coronavirus. UCHealth leaders are eager to provide COVID-19 vaccines to as many people as possible — including older adults, first responders, community health care providers, people with pre-existing conditions and essential workers — as soon as possible in the coming weeks and months.

Isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on older adults

Throughout the pandemic, Kutner, the chief medical officer at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus and a specialist in geriatric medicine and palliative care, has juggled her leadership responsibilities while seeing patients every week at UCHealth Internal Medicine – Lowry.

During a recent clinic, she saw patients ranging in age from 71 to 94, some of them via online virtual visits.

“Every single one of them asked about vaccines,” Kutner said.

She’s thrilled to encourage all of them to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“I tell them definitely to get it. If we want to get our lives back and get to some semblance of normalcy, we all need to get vaccinated,” she said.

Dr. Jean Kutner is thrilled that older adults can now get vaccines to prevent the coronavirus
Dr. Jean Kutner specializes in caring for older patients. She is thrilled that people ages 70 and older are now in the priority group to receive vaccines to prevent COVID-19.

Kutner recently received her vaccine and was thrilled when Colorado leaders and health experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both decided to make older adults a priority for vaccines.

“The impact of the pandemic has been hard on everyone, but especially hard on our older population,” Kutner said. “They’ve been isolated and very worried about their health and their mental health because of the isolation.

“It’s great that we can go ahead and meet the needs of this very vulnerable population.

“This gives us a sense of hope,” Kutner said.

Kutner became emotional when she received her vaccine.

“I teared up and I thought, ‘OK. We can do this. We’re going to be OK,’” Kutner said.

‘What a windfall:’ First older adults in Colorado overjoyed to get vaccines

Patients have felt that same sense of relief. Moldow was relieved that she happened to be keeping a close eye on her emails. She had been receiving greetings from friends and relatives over the holidays. Then, an unexpected message arrived from UCHealth.

“Ordinarily, I might not have opened it at that moment, but something told me it was important,” Moldow recalled. “It was not only important, but a lifeline to a more normal life.”

Moldow read that she could make an appointment within the next 24-to-48 hours. She did so immediately.

“What a windfall!” she said.

older adults begin to get the coronavirus vaccine. Here, pharmacy tech loads the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe.
UCHealth pharmacy tech, Ryan Garcia, loads the first shipments of Moderna vaccines to prevent COVID-19 into a syringe during a vaccine clinic at University of Colorado Hospital.

A lover of colorful silk textiles, art, clothing and jewelry, Moldow says she’s anything but computer savvy. Still, she immediately logged into her account and booked an appointment.

On the day Moldow arrived for her vaccine at a large conference center at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, pharmacists had received their first shipments of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which along with the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Federal Drug Administration to help bring an end to the deadly, devastating COVID-19 pandemic.

Moldow’s son brought her to the hospital. She arrived dressed up like she was attending the opening of an art exhibit or a new play. She wore a sparkly burnt orange top with gold sequins over a colorful Johnny Was short-sleeved shirt (perfect for receiving a vaccine) along with a pink scarf and a flouncy black skirt.

Moldow worked as a physical therapist and in hospitality for the Asian Art Association for years. She has volunteered for countless organizations from Opera Colorado to neighborhood civic and political groups and Denver’s Art Museum. She also works out every day, even if it means simply walking from room to room in her home, climbing the stairs, exercising in her yard or doing physical therapy exercises that she knows will keep her well. She loves swimming and her daughter has been able to take her to a safe outdoor pool on days warmer than 48 degrees. The two also have enjoyed walks on nice days.

No matter what, Moldow puts on a fun outfit and makes the best of life in quarantine.

“I say good morning to the world,” Moldow said.

But, she can’t wait to say good morning to people in person again.

“I’m less comfortable in front of a Zoom (meeting) than I am face-to-face,” Moldow said.

That’s also true for Semond Davis, who goes by Betty.

older adults receive coronavirus vaccines - Betty Davis received her vaccine for COVID-19
Betty Davis receives her vaccine from medical assistant, Traci Hodzic. Davis has been working hard to stay healthy and is eager to return to her church and her women’s health group.

Davis, 80, misses going to church and gathering with a women’s health group that used to meet regularly until the pandemic interfered.

Davis stays healthy by lifting weights and doing yoga. She has an irrepressibly positive attitude and keeps in close touch with family. She has three sons, five grandchildren and a great grandson who is three months old. She gets to talk with him over Facetime and grins when he seems to recognize her voice.

Davis is Black and she says there’s some skepticism in the African American community about getting vaccines. Davis is a patient of Dr. Kutner and estimates she’s known her for about 25 years. She sought her trusted doctor’s advice and Kutner strongly encouraged Davis to get the vaccine as soon as possible.

Davis carried vaccine information home to share with her sons. She plans to advise friends and family members alike to protect themselves.

“I would tell them to wear a mask, get a vaccine and stay safe,” Davis said. “I believe in taking care of yourself.”

Plus, she said, the shot didn’t hurt a bit.

“I didn’t feel a thing. She’s good,” Davis said of Traci Hodzic, the medical assistant who gave Davis her vaccine.

Medical providers watch over patients after they receive their vaccines

All patients stay 15 minutes after receiving their vaccines to be sure they don’t have any kind of allergic reactions. Medical providers watch over them and stand by in case anyone needs their help. Davis felt fine after receiving her vaccine and planned to lift more weights than usual after receiving her vaccine in hopes that her arm wouldn’t get sore.

Among other older Coloradans who were thrilled to receive their vaccines in recent days were George Summers, 86, and Jerry Flack, 77. The two have been partners for 31 years. Normally, they love being out and about.

older adults start receiving their coronavirus vaccines. George Summers receives his vaccine
George Summers can’t wait to travel to Santa Fe to enjoy great food and art once the pandemic ends. He was thrilled to take his first step toward freedom when he received his vaccine at University of Colorado Hospital.

This year has been tough.

“We stay in,” Summers said. “We’ve gone out only for doctor’s appointments. We don’t even get food delivered.”

Both men are retired educators, but Flack has been staying busy writing guides for teachers about how they can inspire children to stay engaged during the pandemic.

Flack said he almost missed the message about getting vaccinated. Just before the 48-hour deadline expired, he spotted the invitation and quickly made an appointment.

The men recently bought a new car and it only has a couple of hundred miles on it. They can’t wait for everyone to get vaccinated so they can take a road trip to one of their favorite destinations: Santa Fe, New Mexico.

For Christmas, Summers got Flack a book about how New Mexico artist Georgia O’Keefe found new inspiration in her 90s.

Enjoying the book and mulling a visit someday soon to O’Keefe’s former stomping grounds will keep the men going.

coronavirus vaccines for older adults - Jerry Flack, left, and George Summers, pose with their new car. They are excited to take a roadtrip to Santa Fe.
Jerry Flack, left, and George Summers, right, pose with their new Cadillac and a book about Georgia O’Keefe. The men bought the car earlier this year, and it only has 600 miles on it. They can’t wait for the pandemic to end so they can safely do a road trip to Santa Fe, one of their favorite places. Photo by Katie McCrimmon.

In the meantime, Summers is the consummate teacher. He lived through poverty as a child and remembers the Depression.

“I was one of 10 children. And I remember being poor. I think the pandemic has been a great learning experience for all of us. We’ve learned how to get by.”

About the author

Katie Kerwin McCrimmon is a proud Coloradan. She attended Colorado College thanks to a merit scholarship from the Boettcher Foundation and worked as a park ranger in Rocky Mountain National Park during summers in college.

Katie is a dedicated storyteller who loves getting to know UCHealth patients and providers and sharing their inspiring stories.

Katie spent years working as an award-winning journalist at the Rocky Mountain News and at an online health policy news site before joining UCHealth in 2017.

Katie and her husband, Cyrus — a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer — have three adult children and love spending time in the Colorado mountains and traveling around the world.