Starting Monday morning, more than 400,000 people will become newly eligible for a coronavirus vaccination in Colorado, another major step in the state’s march toward a post-pandemic world.
People ages 65 to 69, K-12 education and child care workers, and a small number of government officials are included in what the state has dubbed Phase 1b.2 of its increasingly complicated vaccination plan. They add to more than 800,000 people who are already eligible for coronavirus vaccination, meaning that more than a quarter of Colorado’s adult population is now able to get the shot — if they can get an appointment.
Vaccine supplies coming into the state are still limited. Colorado is expecting 90,000 doses total arriving this week. And, while the state is roughly two-thirds of the way to the goal of vaccinating 70% of Colorado’s 70-and-older population by the end of the month, that still leaves more than 100,000 people in that high-risk group looking for their shots.
Here’s what you need to know about this next phase in Colorado’s vaccine rollout.
People 70 and older are still the priority
Despite the expanded age range for people eligible to receive the vaccine, the state wants people 70 and older to remain the priority.
Scott Bookman, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s COVID-19 incident commander, reiterated this guidance in a letter sent to vaccine providers on Friday. People 70 and older make up 78% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths, and state health officials have said that vaccinating this population will be a big step toward ending the “crisis phase” of the pandemic.
“70+ are still our most vulnerable population and must be vaccinated to decrease deaths and hospitalizations,” Bookman wrote.
You can sign up on multiple lists
For people who are eligible for vaccination because of their jobs — like health care workers, first responders, educators and child care professionals — vaccine appointments will generally be available through clinics set up by their employers. (More on this below for people who work in K-12 education.)
But for people in the general population, finding available vaccine is much harder. There’s no central place where you can sign up to get your name on a master list of people awaiting for the shots. So lots of people in the 70-and-older group have been signing up with multiple providers, hoping to snag the first-available appointment.
And this is totally fine.
“You can sign up on multiple sites,” Gov. Jared Polis said at a news conference last week. “If you’re 70 and up and you sign up on one site, you will get the vaccine soon. And if you really want to move it up a matter of days, yes, you can sign up on four or five because one of them might come through tomorrow.”
The state has a list of vaccine providers by county, but you can also go across county lines to get vaccinated. Health officials have been encouraging everyone who is able to sign up online to use that method, in order to leave phone lines open for people who don’t have access to the internet or don’t know how to use it.
But remove yourself from the other lists when you get an appointment
Once you do get an appointment, though, try to take yourself off all the other lists you signed up on. Otherwise it creates a bit of a scheduling headache for providers.
Providers aren’t complaining that people are signing up in multiple places — they expect it. But it slows down the process of getting new people scheduled for appointments if a large percentage of the invites the providers send out are going to people who have already booked an appointment elsewhere.
Julie Lonborg, a senior vice president at the Colorado Hospital Association, said hospitals have lately been finding that one out of every two to four people they send a vaccination invite to are covered elsewhere.
“It’s an inefficient system. but it’s not something that’s causing us to end up wasting doses,” she said.
And there’s also an upside. Those long waitlists that each provider is working through may not be that long in practice.
“It may cause people to feel like it’s going to take a really long time to get their vaccine,” she said. “But this can get cleared really quickly.”
Part-time Colorado residents are eligible for vaccination
The vaccination rollout has generated some protective impulses, with the desire to keep scarce vaccine supplies available only for true locals. But Colorado’s rules are clear. People who live in Colorado can get vaccinated in any county in the state, not just the one they live in.
And part-time residents are eligible for vaccination, too.
“People do not need to be full-time residents of Colorado, nor of a particular Colorado county, to be vaccinated by enrolled providers,” Bookman wrote in his Friday letter to providers. “If people meet eligibility criteria in Colorado’s Phased Prioritization, they should be vaccinated in the same way as other eligible Coloradans.”
Large school districts have to stagger their shots.
The state estimates there are 120,000 people working in K-12 education or licensed child care facilities who are eligible for vaccination in Phase 1b.2. But they won’t be able to all get vaccinated this week.
The state plans to allocate 30,000 doses of vaccine a week to this group. And school districts and child care centers are instructed to reach out to vaccine providers or local public health agencies to set up vaccination clinics for their staffs.
But there’s an extra consideration for large school districts, which, because of their size, could potentially hoover up all available vaccine ahead of smaller districts. The state is asking school districts with more than 5,000 students to prioritize within their staff and vaccinate no more than one-third of their employees per week.
In a letter to school superintendents on Friday, Bookman wrote that the staggering of shots by large districts is needed “because of the need to be equitable.”
This is going to take time
At this point in Colorado’s vaccine rollout, the key word to keep in mind remains: patience. There’s a lot more people ready to get vaccinated than there are doses to go around.
The state currently estimates that it will take at least the next month to finish off providing first doses to those 70 and older and to also get through much of Phase 1b.2. The next phase in the vaccine plan — Phase 1b.3, when frontline essential workers and people with multiple comorbidities become eligible — is tentatively scheduled to start on March 5. But Polis said last week that that could change, depending on vaccine availability and how fast Colorado is getting through the current eligibility list.
So hang in there, continue wearing a mask and maintain your social distancing.
“Let’s keep it up,” Polis said last week. “There’s light on the horizon. Every day more and more Coloradans are being vaccinated.”