Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced on Monday that everyone in the state age 16 and older will be eligible for a coronavirus vaccine starting on Friday, weeks earlier than initially planned.
The state had been planning to open vaccine eligibility to the general public starting in mid-April. Colorado will join at least 12 other states across the country that have already expanded eligibility to the general population or will do so by the end of the week.
“This is a really important step that Colorado is taking,” Polis said.
Polis said he expects everyone 16 and older in the state who wants a vaccine will be able to receive at least an initial dose by mid-to-late May. This means much of the state will likely be fully immunized by the end of June.
In the meantime, he said it is crucial for Coloradans to continue with mask-wearing and other social distancing practices.
“The last thing we want is a setback here,” Polis said. “… You’ll be safe soon. Just a little while longer.”
“If we can keep it up a little bit longer,” he added, “then we will have a fairly normal summer.”
How to get your shot
Despite the expanded eligibility, finding a vaccine appointment still often requires some know-how.
There are multiple ways to sign up for an appointment. The state’s COVID-19 website includes links to sign up for community vaccination sites and a county-by-county provider list. It also has a map that shows where vaccine shipments have been sent in the past two weeks, though a supplier’s availability will vary.
Other places to look for appointments include www.comassvax.org, which is run by the state. Appointments through the U.S. Federal Retail Pharmacy Program — which includes Safeway, Walmart and Kroger stores — are at vaccinefinder.org.
Individual hospitals and health systems also have their own sign-up procedures. The most effective way often involves creating an account in those health systems’ patient portals and then actively looking for available appointments. But hospitals and other health care providers, like Kaiser Permanente, also have sign-up forms where the provider will call you when there are appointments available.
Polis said providers will be told to continue prioritizing people from earlier eligibility groups. It will take time for enough appointment spots to open up for everyone who wants a vaccine.
“Patience is key,” Polis said.
Race against virus variants
The expanded eligibility comes as spread of more-contagious coronavirus variants is increasing across the state, giving urgency to the race between the virus and the vaccination campaign. It also comes as measures of control over the virus, like mask-wearing and social distancing, have declined and more than two dozen Colorado counties have moved to the lowest level of coronavirus restrictions.
Mathematical models have suggested Colorado could see another surge in cases if control over the virus drops too quickly without vaccines keeping pace — leading to higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.
Already, Colorado has hit a “high plateau” for cases and hospitalizations. The number of new cases per day has hovered around 1,000 for weeks. The number of people hospitalized with coronavirus has leveled out to around 300 — something Polis called “a very stubborn number.”
This helps explain why Polis has put the pedal down on the state’s vaccine rollout. The state is currently receiving about 413,000 doses of vaccine a week. But Polis said Colorado expects to see an increase of tens of thousands of more doses per week in April.
Hospitals and pharmacies have largely reached maximum capacity for how many people they can vaccinate per day. So the state is working to improve capacity at its six mass-vaccination sites, and to also begin running four mobile vaccination clinics that will be housed in buses moving around the state to distribute the one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. The state will also continue to hold special clinics to ensure equitable access to the vaccine for historically underserved populations.
“We’ve basically maxed out the normal ways we can distribute the vaccine,” Polis said.
70% of Coloradans 60 and older vaccinated
Colorado entered Phase 1b.4 of its vaccine distribution plan on March 19, opening up inoculations to an estimated 2.5 million people, including those 50 and older and a wide array of essential workers.
As of Monday, about 70% of Coloradans age 60 and older had received at least one dose of vaccine, including about 79% of those age 70 and older.
More than 1.58 million Coloradans of any age have received at least a first dose of coronavirus vaccine. More than 950,000 Coloradans were considered fully immunized.
Children under the age of 16 will be the only population group in the state ineligible for vaccination starting on Friday. Clinical trials in kids are underway for several of the vaccines currently approved only for adults. It could take until the end of this year or early next year before those trials are completed and shots are authorized for children.
A recent poll commissioned by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found that 62% of Coloradans either have already received a vaccine or are committed to receiving one as soon as they are eligible. This is an improvement from earlier in the pandemic.
But 26% of respondents who have not received a vaccine yet said they definitely would not get the vaccine or would get it only if required to.
On Monday, Polis urged Coloradans to think about the good of the community when making choices about whether to get vaccinated.
“Ending the pandemic for all of us ends it for every one of us,” Polis said. “We all have an interest in other people being vaccinated.”