A health care worker gives Gretta Wyman, 88, her first of two Moderna COVID-19 vaccine shots at the Della Cava Family Medical Pavilion in Boulder on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. (Steve Peterson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

After COVID-19 had claimed more than 300,000 lives, Americans received word in December that two vaccines had been granted emergency authorization in the United States. Now, as the first Coloradans have begun to receive their vaccinations, questions are emerging about who should get the first doses and how distribution is being managed. 

At AARP Colorado, we are urging our state’s leaders to follow the science and prioritize older adults. Our leaders must be transparent and responsive about where and how vaccines are being given.

On Jan. 27, Gov. Jared Polis and Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera held a tele-town hall with AARP Colorado to answer questions from the public and AARP members about vaccinations. During the hour-long discussion, a poll was taken of those who wanted to answer, in which 19% of respondents said they will get the vaccine as soon as possible, 16% are planning on waiting a little longer, 40% want to learn more about it and 25% said they do not plan to get the vaccine.

Jean Nofles

Nationally, Americans over the age of 50 account for nearly 95% of all COVID-19 deaths. Here in Colorado, 5,650 people have died, with older people and their families hit hard by the virus. Nationwide, more than 420,000 have died from the virus.

The situation in nursing homes is particularly dire. Residents and staff of nursing homes account for nearly 40% of all COVID-19 deaths, though they are less than 1% of the population. Tragically, this situation has gotten even worse over the last few months. From September to December 2020, Colorado deaths among nursing-home residents increased from 0.17 to 3.68 per 100 residents.

And then there are our hospitals, which are under tremendous strain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people ages 50 to 64 with COVID-19 are four times more likely to end up in the hospital than their younger counterparts, and worryingly, at 30 times greater risk for death. If you are 65 to 74 years old, the risks are even higher.

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Clearly, states vaccination plans must prioritize the most vulnerable. That includes older Coloradans who are at much higher risk of death due to COVID-19.  And, we need to continue to ensure residents and staff of long-term care facilities can receive vaccinations as soon as possible to prevent further loss of life.

As we move forward with the real-time distribution of vaccines, we must ensure that our state’s plans are implemented smoothly and efficiently. The first weeks of vaccine distribution got off to an unsteady start across the nation. Every day, residents of Colorado have questions about when and how they can get a vaccine. 

We need our federal government, state officials, and the private sector to work together to be clear about when and how to sign up to be vaccinated and to efficiently manage the processes to administer the vaccines. 

To help our members and all Coloradans, AARP has published a guide to Colorado’s distribution plans, explaining how distribution will work, eligibility, the timeline, vaccination locations, and other key details. The state guide is available at aarp.org/COvaccine and will be updated throughout the year as new information is available.

Transparency is critical to an effective vaccine plan to make sure our distribution systems are functioning like they should, to know what’s working and what’s not. We must ensure that every Coloradan who wants a vaccine can receive one. 

AARP Colorado has asked Gov. Polis to regularly post information and updates on vaccine administration on a public website to ensure transparency about state efforts as well as critical information when additional individuals will be eligible to be vaccinated and that is being done.

Since March 2020, we have joined together to battle coronavirus and its health and economic consequences. We now have the hope of ending the pandemic through widespread vaccination, but for it to work, our state must make and implement plans that are guided by the evidence.

It’s time for full-scale mobilization. When we do that work well, we will finally get back to normal.

Jean Nofles is AARP Colorado president, a volunteer position.

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Special to The Colorado Sun