Gov. Jared Polis said Friday that Colorado will move into its next phase of coronavirus vaccine distribution on March 19 — two days ahead of schedule — and that he expects the general public will have access to inoculations by mid-April.
The next phase, Phase 1b.4, includes anyone 50 and older, restaurant workers and many essential workers, like student-facing higher education employees, front-line journalists and manufacturing workers. There are an estimated 2.5 million people in the group.
Polis made the announcement at a news conference at the governor’s mansion in downtown Denver.
The news comes a day after President Joe Biden said Thursday night that all Americans will have access to a coronavirus vaccine by May 1. Polis said he believes the state will be able to beat that goal.
“We expect to have a firmer date in the next week or two,” the governor said of the exact date in April when the general public will have access to the vaccine.
More than 1 million people in Colorado have already received at least a first dose of coronavirus vaccine. The state is currently focusing on vaccinating people age 60 and older, those with two or more high-risk conditions, and agricultural and grocery store workers.
“We are really making great progress,” said Scott Bookman, the state’s incident commander.
Bookman said vaccine providers will have discretion to prioritize more vulnerable people to get inoculated once distribution is opened up to the general public.
Colorado will not have finished vaccinating people in Phase 1b.4 before it starts inoculating members of the general public. People in the phase, however, will be prioritized ahead of others.
The governor said by having phases overlap the state can ensure there is enough demand for the supply.
The state is opening mass-vaccination sites across the state to handle the surge in inoculations that is expected in the coming weeks.
“We expect that Coloradans who want it will be able to get it by the end of May,” he said of first doses of coronavirus vaccine.
The next big challenge for Colorado health officials will be convincing enough people that the vaccine is safe. A recent Magellan Strategies poll found that only 55% percent of registered voters in Colorado who haven’t been inoculated want to receive a vaccine once it becomes available to them, including only 29% of Republicans
Vaccines work by helping to train the immune system to better fight back against the coronavirus. Contrary to misinformation circulated on social media, none of the vaccines that have already been approved or that are in the pipeline alter people’s DNA.
And, while survivability is generally high among younger people who fall ill with COVID-19, the disease can also cause long-term organ and neurological damage, costly hospital stays and sometimes even permanent disability.
“Right now we have the problem of demand exceeding supply,” Polis said. “That will change soon.”
The governor said the state is working to make it convenient for people to get vaccinated, which he said will alleviate problems with hesitation. A massive public relations campaign is also in the works.
Polis said summer 2021 “will be a lot more normal than last summer.” He forecast a “very strong tourism season, as well.”