Colorado health officials are imploring people to get vaccinated as the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across the state.
Thousands of appointments or walk-up slots are available for the next few days across the state, Gov. Jared Polis said at a news conference Tuesday, and more vaccination sites are now offering walk-up slots.
“This virus waits for no one,” Polis said. “Start your protection clock, get vaccinated.”
Coronavirus cases continue to increase across the state, though state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said Tuesday that the increase is slower than in recent weeks. Cases among 11- to 17-year-olds — middle school and high school students — are now occurring at a higher rate than among people age 18 and older, which has plateaued in recent days.
More than half of Coloradans had received at least one coronavirus vaccine as of Tuesday, with about a third of the eligible population fully vaccinated. But children age 16 and under are not yet eligible for coronavirus vaccines. Experts hope that will change before the next school year begins in the fall as vaccines are approved for younger people.
Higher vaccination rates are correlating with lower case rates in the state’s 10 largest counties, Herlihy said. The state has found that a county’s seven-day case rate decreases by about 51 cases per 100,000 people for every additional 10% increase in vaccinated residents.
Boulder, Jefferson and Denver counties are leading in high vaccination rates and low case rates, while El Paso and Pueblo counties both have among the state’s lowest vaccination rates and the highest case rates.
“What we’re really seeing here is our first clear sign, our first promising indication that we’re seeing community-level protection from vaccination,” Herlihy said. But she cautioned that even the counties doing well are likely not at herd immunity yet, which will be reached when 70-75% of Coloradans are vaccinated.
In other words, many more people will need to get vaccinated to emerge from the pandemic.
Polis hopes presenting the data announced Tuesday will convince more people to get vaccinated.
“We hope that this cold, hard data helps convince people that might be on the sidelines to get vaccinated,” Polis said. “If you haven’t been vaccinated, you are at very high risk for contracting this virus right now.”
Polis noted that a major task now is addressing “hesitance or laziness” for those who didn’t want to endure the digital rush for appointments. Research shows that many of those who have waited to get vaccinated feel they have done so for rational reasons. Maybe they don’t want to lose time at work if they have a bad reaction, or they’ve experienced discrimination while seeking medical care previously.
A relaxed approach was fine when vaccine demand was greater than supply, Polis said. But now vaccines are available to everyone, supply is matching or exceeding demand and the most vulnerable populations have gotten vaccinated. A law signed earlier this year also covered most employees with paid time off or authorized using paid sick leave to get a vaccine and recover from any side effects.
“They’re thinking I’ll get it in the future, maybe in a month, maybe in two months, maybe in some indefinite date,” Polis said. “Well, that time is now. Step up and get it.”
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Convenience and access are also factors here, Polis said, which is why all six of the state’s large community vaccination sites are being open to walk-in patients as of Tuesday. People who need help getting to a vaccination appointment or site can also now call 211 to request a free ride. And mobile vaccination buses are making their way across the state, offering both appointments and walk-in slots.
Polis called on Coloradans’ competitiveness to encourage higher vaccination rates, especially in communities that are lagging behind.
“We all want to win back what has been taken by this virus — a normal life, a thriving economy — and we are rapidly achieving that,” Polis said.