Coronavirus

COVID-19 Vaccinations for Eligible Colorado Kids Going Slooooowly

Photo by CDC on Unsplash
There have been plenty of reports about the generally slow pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in Colorado. But information about immunization rates for eligible children ages twelve through seventeen has been much tougher to find, in part because the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's vaccine data dashboard only offers details about the ten-to-nineteen-year-old demographic; kids ten and eleven aren't eligible for shots yet, but all the demographic information is presented by decade. As of today, June 24, this youthful group represents 7.95 percent of all Coloradans vaccinated, while making up 13.01 percent of the state's total population.

In response to Westword's inquiries, however, the CDPHE provided updated vaccine percentages for those between sixteen and eighteen years of age, who've been able to get shots since early April, as well as those between twelve and fifteen, eligible as of mid-May. The numbers aren't particularly impressive:
16-18 with one dose: 48.8
16-18 with two doses: 40.5
12-15 with one dose: 35.6 percent
12-15 with two doses: 24.2
Kristen Stewart, spokesperson for Colorado's Joint Information Center, which is coordinating communication about COVID-19 among state agencies, confirms that the rate of vaccinations for eligible kids is no better than that for the rest of the eligible popoulation.

"Vaccinations are our ticket out of the pandemic, and we want all Coloradans to make an appointment to get vaccinated," Stewart notes. "Initially, vaccine demand was greater than the supply, so we were vaccinating at a higher rate. Many Coloradans still want to get vaccinated but haven’t had the time to make it a priority, so the pace is naturally slower. We are making steady progress in all age groups and doing everything we can to make sure Coloradans have all the information they need about where they can get a free, safe COVID-19 vaccine conveniently."

Colorado attempted to incentivize vaccinations with the creation of Colorado Comeback Cash, a series of drawings in which five vaccinated adults can collect $1 million each; three winners have been revealed thus far. The state subsequently introduced a parallel program to gift 25 vaccinated kids with $50,000 scholarships. The two efforts have not resulted in a rush for vaccinations, but Stewart says that they're definitely helping.

"Our goal has been to vaccinate as many Coloradans as possible," she continues. "Since the May 25 announcement of the drawing, Colorado vaccine providers have administered nearly 479,000 vaccines. Our analysis is showing that the states that announced vaccine incentive programs before June 1 are seeing an overall slower decline in their doses administered compared to other states. We saw an increase in our weekly number of vaccines administered the week of June 6-12. The vaccine data dashboard shows almost a 10 percent increase that week compared to the previous week. There had been a percent decrease for the eight weeks prior to June 6-12."

Still, the CDPHE isn't celebrating. "We have vaccinated more than 3.1 million Coloradans with at least one dose, which is a significant accomplishment, but we know we still have work to do," Stewart says. "We are doing everything we can to reduce the number of unvaccinated Coloradans, and to ensure Coloradans can easily and conveniently get their vaccine."

And what has the state done? "We have organized over 1,500 vaccine equity clinics in 56 counties," Stewart says. "We have nine mobile vaccine buses meant to meet hard-to-reach Coloradans where they are. We are partnering with businesses and organizations in our Workplace Vaccination Program to provide vaccine clinics on worksites. Our Power the Comeback campaign is running statewide in English and Spanish. The campaign includes Awareness ads, testimonial videos and animated videos. We have a Spanish Facebook page and a Spanish COVID-19 website. We are dismantling barriers to access and have told vaccine providers that no identification, proof of residency, or insurance is required to obtain the vaccine. We have a 24/7 vaccine hotline, 1-877-CO VAX CO (1-877-268-2926). Call agents provide assistance in multiple languages and can help schedule appointments."

Of course, another way to make sure kids get vaccinated is to have schools require such shots for admission prior to the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year. But that isn't happening — at least not yet. Although Stewart confirms that "there is not currently a statewide COVID-19 vaccination mandate," she emphasizes that "colleges and universities regularly require students to be vaccinated prior to starting school. For example, requirements for MMR and meningococcal vaccination for state colleges and universities are currently in place and have helped prevent outbreaks of these serious diseases."

In the meantime, she concludes: "We want all Coloradans twelve and up to choose to get vaccinated because it will help ensure a safe return to in-person school in the fall and will dramatically reduce disruptions caused by disease transmission. We will continue to work closely with the Colorado Department of Education, local public health agencies and stakeholders as we prepare for the 2021-2022 school year and prioritize strategies to keep schools safe and uninterrupted in the fall."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts