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Colorado set to begin receiving roughly twice as many coronavirus vaccine doses starting in April

Gov. Jared Polis said he’s “confident that summer will be very close to normal”

A vaccine vial was ready for use as critical staff at the Kaiser Permanente Lone Tree Medical Offices received their first doses of the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 on Dec. 23, 2020, in Lone Tree. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado is set to begin receiving roughly twice as many weekly doses of coronavirus vaccine starting in April compared to what the state is allotted now as production ramps up and the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine is widely distributed. 

“News of increasing supply is a very, very good thing,” Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday at a news conference at the governor’s mansion in downtown Denver. “I’m confident that summer will be very close to normal.”

Starting the week of April 11, Colorado is forecast to receive more than 400,000 weekly doses of coronavirus vaccine. That includes about 100,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which Polis says will be twice as impactful since it is only administered in one dose as opposed to the two doses needed for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. 

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The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has shown slightly lower overall efficacy in clinical trials than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, but it still offers high levels of protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Colorado will receive 45,500 doses of that vaccine this week before a two-week drop off caused by production issues.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine distribution is expected to ramp up again at the end of the month, when Colorado is slated to receive more than 67,000 doses the week of March 28.

Polis did not elaborate on what “very close to normal” means and he couched his remarks by saying that vaccine distribution is subject to change and that an explosion in coronavirus variant cases could derail progress made in inoculating people against the disease.

“Based on what we see with the vaccine data, as long as the vaccine continues to be effective and based on these numbers, I expect the pandemic phase of this will likely be over this summer,” Polis said. “That doesn’t mean the disease goes away.”

The governor said that by June and July he doesn’t think the majority of people will be wearing masks in grocery stores, suggesting that he could end his mask-wearing mandate in the coming months. Right now, mask-wearing is required in grocery stores and all other indoor public places.

The suggestion comes after Texas on Tuesday became the largest state to lift its mask mandate.

President Joe Biden said Tuesday the U.S. expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccine for all adults by the end of May — two months earlier than anticipated — and he pushed states to get at least one shot into the arms of teachers by the end of May to hasten school reopenings.

Biden also announced that drugmaker Merck will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved one-shot vaccine, likening the partnership between the two drug companies to the spirit of national cooperation during World War II.

“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” Biden said.

Despite the stepped-up pace of vaccine production, the work of inoculating Americans could extend well into the summer, officials said, depending both on the government’s capacity to deliver doses and Americans’ willingness to roll up their sleeves.

Biden’s announcements quickly raised expectations for when the nation could safely emerge from the pandemic with the promise of speedier vaccinations, but even as he expressed optimism, Biden quickly tempered the outlook for a return to life as it was before the virus hit.

“I’ve been cautioned not to give an answer to that because we don’t know for sure,” Biden said, before saying his hope for a return to normal was sometime before “this time next year.”

As Biden spoke, states across the country were moving to relax virus-related restrictions. This despite the objections of the White House and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who have warned against any relaxation of virus protocols until more Americans are vaccinated.

As part of the increase in doses coming to Colorado, vaccine clinics will be held Friday for workers at the JBS and Cargill meat-packing facilities in Greeley and Fort Morgan. Both were hard hit by deadly COVID-19 outbreaks at the beginning of the pandemic. 

Polis also announced on Tuesday that Colorado has reached its goal of vaccinating at least 70% of Coloradans ages 70 and older by Feb. 28. 

Starting on Friday, Coloradans 60 and older, as well as people with two or more high-risk conditions and those who work at grocery stores and food-production facilities, will be eligible to receive the vaccine.

The governor believes the general public in Colorado will have access to the vaccine as soon as May.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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