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Coronavirus

Colorado changes vaccine plan again, moving down most essential workers to bump up older, sicker people

Gov. Jared Polis is prioritizing Coloradans between the ages of 60 and 64 and people with two or more high-risk conditions when a new distribution phase begins next week. Grocery store and agricultural workers will also get priority.

Dr. Steve Groshong, right, administers the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Webber during a drive-through vaccine clinic in the parking lot at National Jewish Health on January 29, 2021 in Denver. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado is once again reshuffling its coronavirus vaccine distribution plan, this time bumping older and sicker people up in line and moving down most essential workers who were slated to start getting inoculated next week. 

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The major changes, announced by Gov. Jared Polis at a news conference on Friday afternoon, will mean that people between the ages of 60 and 64 and people ages 16 to 64 with two or more high-risk conditions will be eligible to receive a vaccine when the state moves into Phase 1b.3 on March 5.

Previously, people ages 60 to 64 were in Phase 2 of Colorado’s vaccine distribution plan. 

Grocery store and agricultural workers will also be eligible to receive the vaccine starting next week, when 1b.3 is scheduled to begin. About 950,000 people are estimated to make up the new 1b.3 priority group.

Polis also announced Friday that Coloradans age 50 and older will have access to the vaccine starting in late March, possibly as soon as March 21.

The changes mean there will be a delay, likely of several weeks, in receiving the vaccine for thousands of other essential workers who were slated to start being inoculated on March 5. That essential workers group — which is now under a newly created Phase 1b.4 — includes people working in manufacturing and public transit, as well as U.S. Postal Service employees, faith leaders, student-facing higher-education workers, restaurant workers, and journalists.

People in Phase 1b.4 are now slated to start receiving vaccines on March 21, the governor said, alongside Coloradans 50 and older.

Scott Bookman, the state’s incident commander, estimates that 2.5 million people are in Phase 1b.4.

Gov. Jared Polis announces a major shift in Colorado’s vaccine distribution plan. (Screenshot)

“Since the beginning of this pandemic, we have approached the vaccine distribution process in a way that is equitable, saves the most lives and ends the public health crisis as soon as possible,” Polis said in explaining the alterations.

The governor said that essential workers aren’t being moved down — even though they are now in a later phase and getting the vaccine at a later date.

“It’s simply a consequence of making sure that the supply and demand align,” Polis said.

Not everyone was happy about the changes.

“The goal posts keep moving,” tweeted restauranteur Chris Fuselier, who owns Blake Street Tavern. “Many owners and managers in the restaurant industry have been telling our workers they would be eligible to be vaccinated starting March 5.”

The Colorado Restaurant Association says it was “shocked” by the new distribution plan.

“Just hours before the Governor’s press conference, we were assured multiple times from multiple people from the governor’s office, including the governor, that we would be in same phase as grocery workers,” Sonia Riggs, who leads the restaurant association, said in a written statement. “We obviously are disappointed in any further delays. Our primary concern is the health and safety of our workers, who provide essential meals for Coloradans, just as grocery workers do. Splitting grocery workers and restaurant workers into two phases makes zero sense.”

Brig. Gen. Scott Sherman, the Colorado National Guard soldier leading Colorado’s vaccine distribution efforts, said the state is expecting the White House to announce next week an increase in vaccine doses being sent to states. He believes that will translate to bigger shipments for Colorado starting in late March or early April.

The Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine is expected to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use as soon as this weekend. That means doses of that vaccine could arrive in Colorado as soon as next week.

“Please be patient,” Sherman said. “You will have your turn to get a vaccine.”

Polis said just because someone is eligible “doesn’t mean you can get it in a day or two.”

Lincoln Community Hospital registered nurse Deanne Kahler of Hugo draws a Moderna covid-19 vaccine dose during a vaccination clinic at the hospital in Hugo on Wednesday, Feb. 24 2021. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Polis and Sherman also announced Friday that Colorado is expecting to open a host of mass vaccination sites across the state sometime in mid March to distribute the boost in doses and tackle the large phases.

Those sites include the Ball Arena in Denver, Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, the Grand Junction Convention Center, the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, the Ranch Events Complex in Larimer County and the Pueblo Mall.

People with questions about getting vaccinated can call the state’s vaccine hotline at 1-877-268-2926.

High-risk conditions that make someone eligible for the vaccine under Phase 1b.3 include:

  • People receiving treatment for cancer or who have received treatment in the past month
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Diabetes
  • Down syndrome
  • Heart conditions, like heart failure, cardiomyopathies or coronary heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Organ transplant recipients 
  • People with disabilities that require direct care at home
  • People with disabilities that prevent them from wearing a mask

More than 1 million Coloradans have received at least a first dose of coronavirus vaccine, including at least 67% of Coloradans ages 70 and older. 

Approximately 37% of Coloradans ages 65 to 69 have received a first dose, as well as roughly 64% of K-12 educators and child care workers. 

Bookman, the incident commander, said the general public will be vaccinated once Phase 1b.4 is complete. He’s not sure when that will be.

Polis, however, said that the general public in Colorado could have access to the vaccine as soon as late April or early May. “We want to end all this complex phasing as soon as possible,” he said.

The governor said there is still plenty of “fertile ground” for the virus to spread if Coloradans let it. He urged continued vigilance and caution.

“The journey is not over. The race is not yet won. We need to be very patient,” Polis said.

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