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Polis: Trump, Pence, Azar All Lied About Vaccine Reserve Supply

Governor Jared Polis in a new video honoring recipients of the 2020 Colorado Governor's Citizenship Medals.
Governor Jared Polis in a new video honoring recipients of the 2020 Colorado Governor's Citizenship Medals.
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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Jared Polis has generally avoided giving a tongue-lashing to President Donald Trump or members of his inner circle over disease-related topics, presumably because he didn't want Colorado to face retribution when it came to federal aid and desperately needed supplies. But during a January 15 press conference focusing on the novel coronavirus, Polis dropped the politeness and put Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar on blast for promising the state a one-time bump of 210,000 vaccine doses from a reserve supply that doesn't exist — something he said he learned about shortly before the already scheduled event.

"We're extremely disappointed that we were lied to," Poli maintained. "We were led to believe they would release the stockpile, which would have equated to about 210,000 doses, a three-week supply, but that was unfortunately not true."

When asked for his guess about whether this fiction was motivated by vengeance or bungling, Polis replied, "I'm not going to cast aspersions. My guess is it's gross incompetence...but I could be erring on the side of my optimistic view of human nature."

After a quick update on current data (2,281 new COVID-19 cases on January 14 and 881 hospitalizations), Polis detailed the amount of vaccine the state is actually slated to receive in the coming days: 34,700 doses of the Moderna medication and 35,100 of the Pfizer version. That adds up to 69,800 total doses, but the state is able to stretch that number to 77,500 by careful use of small excess amounts in each vial. He expects that Colorado will receive a similar volume through the end of January, with 90,000 to 100,000 per week coming around the first of February.

Had the aforementioned 210,000 doses actually arrived as pledged, he noted, officials would have been able to lower the minimum age for prioritization to 65 and perhaps include front-line workers such as teachers in the vaccination pool sooner. Now that won't happen, but he still expressed confidence that Colorado will be able to achieve its original goal of inoculating 70 percent of residents age seventy and above by February's end, in part because almost all of the health-care personnel working directly with virus patients have gotten their shots, freeing up more resources for seniors. A separate federal program covering nursing homes and assisted-living facilities isn't quite this far along, and Polis expressed frustration about that, too — but as he acknowledged, the majority of these sites have been serviced, with vaccines for the rest expected to follow soon.

In the meantime, Polis asked elders to be patient, since all of them won't be able to receive the vaccine immediately.

Around the midpoint of the discussion, Polis shifted gears to talk about the extension of the federal Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. This time around, the funds will only be available to businesses that were down 25 percent or more for at least one quarter of 2020. Dr. Kit Kieling of Orderly Health spoke about the ways in which his operation benefited from PPP resources during the initial round and how he's looking forward to applying again — and took the chance to hype his service, too.

In a question-and-answer session, Polis stressed that the state is carefully monitoring the performance of hospitals, clinics and other entities that are distributing the vaccine to ensure that they are doing so efficiently and equitably — and he confirmed that no discipline would be meted out against a couple of systems that recently had doses spoiled as a result of what he termed "acts of God" (a power outage, in one case). Polis also discussed research suggesting that vaccinated individuals can still spread the virus even if they don't become infected by it — a development that is likely to present an extra challenge to health officials several months from now.

At present, though, job one is collecting and injecting as much vaccine as possible, and Polis was clearly still fuming about the latest untruth to come out of the Trump administration in its waning days. About the stockpile, he said, "Never in our wildest dreams did we think it didn't exist."

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