COVID-19: Polis on What to Tell Fearful Anti-Vaxxers

Governor Jared Polis signing a bill during quarantine necessitated by his positive test for COVID-19.
Governor Jared Polis signing a bill during quarantine necessitated by his positive test for COVID-19.
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During a December 11 press conference about Colorado's response to COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis touched on the first phase of the vaccination plan discussed during a media availability two days earlier. But he also addressed what's likely to be the next big challenge for officials trying to end the current crisis: convincing anti-vaxxers or folks simply afraid of being injected with a drug approved so quickly that they should do so anyway.

"Look, the FDA and the nation's top scientists have reviewed data from tens of thousands of people who volunteered," he pointed out, "and they found not only great efficacy, but also great safety. What people can expect is an experience similar to the flu vaccine. Some people the next day will have a sore arm and some aches and pains, but some people won't have any symptoms. It depends on the person, but really, it's the same type of reaction."

He added: "It's a very safe, very effective way of ending the pandemic — protecting yourself, saving lives."

Early on, Polis shared some of the latest data about the novel coronavirus's spread in the state, noting that 4,678 new cases have been reported today, December 11, along with 1,559 current hospitalizations. "There's been a leveling out" of the numbers, he allowed. "It hasn't gotten worse, but it hasn't gotten much better. Hopefully, this is a place where we start to turn things around, but it really depends on if we're succeeding in the next few weeks" with safety protocols such as wearing masks in public, avoiding get-togethers with folks from different households, and physical distancing.

Such efforts will continue to be important even after the first stock of the vaccine is distributed and administered in Colorado, likely within days. After all, Polis emphasized, the initial supply is very limited: 46,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, likely followed by 95,600 doses of the Moderna version, which is expected to be approved by the feds a week or so from now. Since each require two shots between three and four weeks apart and don't achieve full effectiveness until around fourteen days after the second injection, people will need to keep following public-health officials' advice for months to come to prevent statistical backsliding.

Polis compared shirking such responsibilities to a marathon runner breaking into a celebratory dance fifty yards from the finish line and expending all his energy, then collapsing before crossing the finish line.

While Colorado may not have suffered a huge viral spike as a result of Thanksgiving, Polis stressed that a surge could still materialize if residents mark holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa in a careless manner. As such, he encouraged people to avoid large gatherings and unnecessary travel, and to participate with family members from different households virtually, so everyone will be able to take part in more traditional festivities in 2021. Likewise, he urged the most vulnerable individuals — particularly those in their seventies and eighties — to consider attending religious observances remotely as opposed to going to a church, synagogue or similar site.

Several of the questions posed by journalists after Polis concluded his introductory remarks focused on the return of in-person education at schools after the first of the year. Once again, he touted such sessions as important educationally as well as for the mental health of students, and said a task force coming up with enhanced reopening protocols should make its recommendations public soon.

About vaccines, Polis acknowledged that dealing with the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at ultra-cold temperatures, will be more difficult than handling the Moderna variation, whose supply chain won't be nearly as tricky — but he expressed confidence that the dispensing of both will go smoothly, with a bare minimum of spoilage. Health-care centers and the like will have 72 hours to give out their supply, and if they haven't, "we'll take it back and give it to somebody else."

Clearly, he hopes those somebodies will include all Coloradans, whether they're enthusiastic about getting the vaccine or not.

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