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Colorado now has enough coronavirus vaccine for all frontline health care workers — and is poised to move into Phase 1b

About 9,000 people are being vaccinated a day in the state, Colorado National Guard general says

Nurse Joe Pumo, left, administers the coronavirus vaccine to physician assistant John Maxfield as the critical staff at the Kaiser Permanente Lone Tree Medical Offices receive their first doses of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 on December 23, 2020 in Lone Tree. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado hospitals and health clinics have now received enough coronavirus vaccine to provide a first dose to all frontline health care workers in the state, the Colorado National Guard general overseeing the state’s vaccine distribution system said Tuesday.

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Brig. Gen. Scott Sherman said the state expected to have more than 195,000 doses of vaccine “on the ground” by the end of the day Tuesday.

“According to our records … we’ve pretty much got the frontline health care workers done with their first dose,” Sherman said. “So we’ll be going into our next phase, Phase 1b.”

Health care workers who have direct contact with coronavirus patients are in Phase 1a of the state’s allocation plan, along with the staff and residents of long-term care facilities. Phase 1b includes all other health care workers — and likely first responders, such as paramedics and police officers.

This chart shows the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s plan for how coronavirus vaccinations will be prioritized. CDPHE released the updated chart on Dec. 9, 2020, and said it could change in the future as more is learned about COVID-19. (Screenshot)

But exactly who is included in Phase 1b could be changing after new federal guidance. Sherman said Gov. Jared Polis would announce more about the state’s latest plan for Phase 1b and other phases at a news conference on Wednesday.

Sherman declined to provide more details. But there are indications that Colorado could be moving all people age 75 or older into the higher-priority tier, aligning with the new federal guidance. That group currently sits in Phase 2, which isn’t expected to begin until spring.

The Vail Daily reported Tuesday night that a health official told Eagle County commissioners the county would begin rolling out vaccinations to those 75 and older next week. Though details of how it will work are still pending, Eagle County Public Health and Environment Director Heath Harmon said vaccine would likely be distributed to doctors’ offices, a shift from what has thus far been tightly controlled distribution channels.

“Our goal is to get the vaccine into the hands of our primary care providers,” Harmon said, according to the Vail Daily.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported that 73,867 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19. That differs slightly from what Sherman told The Sun in a Tuesday morning interview — saying that about 76,600 people had been vaccinated as of 9 a.m. Tuesday. He said more than 80,000 would be vaccinated by the end of Tuesday. 

Sherman said about 9,000 people in Colorado are getting vaccinated a day.

Colorado is distributing shipments of both coronavirus vaccines approved so far, those made by the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna. Both vaccines require two doses, and people must get their second dose with the same vaccine they received in their first dose. The doses are spaced 21 days apart for the Pfizer vaccine and 28 days apart for the Moderna vaccine.

So far, there does not appear to have been any serious side effects from the vaccine reported  in Colorado — such as the rare but severe allergic reactions seen in other states. The federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System has recorded 11 instances where a person suffered a notable side effect in Colorado from a coronavirus vaccine. The most common symptom reported was a headache.

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The slow pace of vaccination has led to frustrations across the country. But Sherman said Colorado is doing well with vaccinations per capita compared with the rest of the country.

He attributed the gap in the number of vaccine doses distributed and the number of people who have been inoculated to the tedious, on-the-ground task of getting people organized and lined up to receive the vaccine. Some large hospital systems are moving doses around between hospitals to make sure they get to the people who need them first. Hospitals are taking into account staff schedules and spacing out appointments to avoid crowding.

“It’s just getting their frontline health care workers available,” Sherman said.

Sherman said the state this week should begin receiving shipments of the Pfizer vaccine designated as second doses for health care workers who received their first dose three weeks ago. The state will also continue receiving vaccine designated for first doses, he said.

Sherman said the state expected to receive around 33,000 additional doses of the vaccine manufactured by Moderna next week.

Army Veteran Phil Ross, 73, right, celebrates after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse Ola Arije, left, at Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons in Aurora on Tuesday, December 22, 2020. Ross is the first senior-care center resident in Colorado to receive the vaccine. (Pool photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

Much of the Pfizer vaccine received next week is expected to go to a special program for inoculating workers and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities. That program launched Monday, and Sherman said it is running about a week ahead of schedule, after the state received more of the Pfizer vaccine this month than it was expecting.

Sherman said the state expects to receive the last of the first doses needed for that program in the week of Jan. 15 — though, as with health care workers, it will take time to get those doses into arms. The doses are going directly to a partnership between the pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens, which are administering the vaccinations at nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Colorado.

In the meantime, Sherman said the state will begin ramping up Phase 1b even as it is still winding down Phase 1a. First responders in Denver and Pueblo, for instance, have already received a first dose of the vaccine. Some hospitals with leftover doses after inoculating their frontline staff have also already begun vaccinating workers in Phase 1b.

“They are going to be fluid, especially as you get toward the end,” Sherman said. “They are going to be a little bit fluid, a little bit of overlap.”


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