During a December 9 press conference updating the public on the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Jared Polis briefly addressed the recovery process of First Gentleman Marlon Reis, who has returned home following a brief hospitalization after the couple contracted the virus. "We're just happy our family made it through this," Polis said, before moving on to a detailed discussion of the distribution of two vaccines expected to soon be approved by the federal government.
Polis described the rapid development of vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna, both of which are said to be around 95 percent effective, as a "triumph of modern science" before turning to Scott Bookman, COVID-19 incident commander for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to explain the complex plan and how it will be rolled out.
At the outset, Bookman noted improvements that Colorado has made in terms of addressing the novel coronavirus since the start of the pandemic: daily testing capacity has gone from 160 to more than 55,000, personal protective equipment supply chains should be secure through at least the next calendar year, and not-yet-activated alternative care sites can provide additional hospital capacity if needed.
Bookman then said that the state has made its initial order for the Pfizer vaccine (46,800 doses), and expects to request 95,600 doses of the Moderna product on December 10 or 11. These numbers are dictated by the size of Colorado, which represents 1.69 percent of the U.S. population. The emergency use authorization, or EUA, for Pfizer is expected to be approved at the federal level between December 11 and December 14, and if the medication gets the nod, Colorado's initial supply should be winging its way to the state within 24 hours. The Moderna version is expected to be approved around a week later; if that happens, Colorado is expected to get its shipment in a similar time frame — approximately December 21. After that, shipments of the vaccine should take place on a weekly basis, depending on supply.
Bookman noted that both vaccines will require two doses: The second Pfizer shot is to be administered 21 days after the first, while there will be a 28-day gap for the Moderna meds, and maximum efficacy should be reached about two weeks after the second shot. Likewise, both vaccines must be kept at an extremely low temperature, raising the level of difficulty when it comes to transporting them to every corner of Colorado. Various military and law enforcement agencies will assist public-health officials with this task; according to Colorado National Guard Brigadier General Scott Sherman, eight secret storage hubs have been designated but will not be publicly divulged for security reasons.
A task force will monitor this process, with a particular focus on distribution. The vaccines have an approximate shelf life of five days, and if facilities haven't dispensed all of them within three, actions will be taken to make sure they're quickly used at that location or transferred to other areas of need.
Bookman laid out the various phases of the operation. Phase 1 entails getting the vaccines to Colorado, after which Phase 1A "will be focused on the highest-risk health-care workers and individuals providing direct contact with COVID-19 patients for fifteen minutes or more over a 24-hour period," he divulged. That includes doctors and nurses on virus units or specialists in respiratory care and the like. Also included in Phase 1A will be residents and staffers at nursing homes.
In Phase 1B, those who receive vaccinations will include what Bookman characterized as "moderate-risk" health-care staffers, such as folks who have duties adjacent to COVID-19 efforts, home providers, lab technicians and more, as well as first responders: emergency personnel, firefighters, law enforcers. Next up, in Phase 2, will be higher-risk individuals (those age 65 or older and people with chronic medical conditions that increase their vulnerability) and essential workers who interact with the community, including grocery workers, school staffers and employees at meat-packing plants or on farms. Another group in this category are folks who participated in COVID-19 trials but received a placebo.
As for the remainder of the general public excluding children (vaccines are only approved at this point for people age eighteen and above, though that's likely to be lowered to age twelve before long), Bookman said they'll start getting their shots during the summer — an admission disappointing those hoping for widespread distribution in the spring.
The shots will initially be dispensed at places such as major health-care facilities before branching out to a wider range of settings, including neighborhood pharmacies; Walgreens and CVS were mentioned by name.
Both Polis and Gunnison Public Health Director Joni Reynolds talked about campaigns intended to reassure members of minority communities and those living in rural places that the vaccines are safe. This is likely to be among the biggest challenges in a mammoth effort filled with them.
Plenty of questions for the panel followed, including several related to rumors that inmates at correctional facilities will get shots before the citizenry as a whole. Polis denied that, saying priorities will be determined on an individual basis — meaning that 65-and-up prisoners will get shots at around the same time other seniors are receiving theirs. He deemed the approach "the moral path for society to take." He also brushed aside suggestions that kids might be required to receive a vaccine before being allowed back in school, reiterating that he hopes most if not all students will be able to experience in-person instruction beginning in January no matter what.