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Polis: COVID-19 Vaccine Won't Get to Most Coloradans Until 2021

A masked Colorado Governor Jared Polis in a photo from earlier this year.
A masked Colorado Governor Jared Polis in a photo from earlier this year.

The focus of Governor Jared Polis's October 16 press conference was a plan for distributing a future COVID-19 vaccine that will be submitted to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later today. A preview of the methodology included the acknowledgement that shots won't be available to most Coloradans until sometime next year.

This information was accompanied by revelations regarding data about the novel coronavirus's current spread through the state, including a new record for daily cases and hospitalizations that continue to soar, with no end in sight.

In revealing these figures, Polis encouraged people to cut back on gatherings. "If you have social plans this weekend with some friend to get together at their house or whatever it is, I suggest you avoid them for a few weeks," he said.

The key Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment stats cited by Polis: 1,312 new positives today, as well as 352 hospitalizations. Those hospitalizations, he noted, are "the most since late May, and I am very concerned about this trend. We had three days of over 1,000 cases, and our positivity rate continues to be just over 5 percent, which is the threshold from the World Health Organization about whether there is enough testing."

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Polis bemoaned the closure of large-scale testing sites at the Pepsi Center and Aurora Sports Park, and encouraged communities to relaunch facilities along these lines soon. In the meantime, the state has recently enhanced its map for finding smaller testing locations in communities across the state (click here for more information).

Two hours before Polis's press conference, Mayor Michael Hancock had announced new public-health orders for the city that include mandates involving the wearing of facial coverings outdoors and a reduction of gatherings from a limit of ten to five. While Polis didn't argue in favor of a similar edict statewide, he discouraged people from getting together in big numbers and urged them to follow other familiar safety protocols — mask-wearing, hand-washing, social distancing and so on.

Such efforts will be necessary as we move closer to the winter holiday season, he emphasized, adding that Colorado is currently at a "critical juncture" when it comes to the disease.

After providing a brief update about wildfires in the state, particularly the Cameron Peak fire, which has grown to become the largest conflagration in Colorado history at more than 169,000 acres (containment is around 56 percent), Polis introduced chief medical officer Dr. Eric France to discuss vaccines.

France began his presentation with a basic primer about how such injections work, and the three phases of testing which they must go through before winning approval from federal regulators. Four vaccines, developed by Pfizer, Moderna, Oxford Biomedical and Janssen, have entered phase three testing, he revealed, with two requiring a minimum of two doses thirty days apart and the other pair being evaluated based on either one or two doses. Of these firms, Pfizer appears closest to the race's end, having announced that its vaccine could be approved for emergency use as early as the third week of November. But even if that tight timeline is met, officials expect a modest number of doses being made available in Colorado in the beginning, requiring the sort of prioritization outlined in the CDC plan.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment executive director Jill Hunsaker Ryan, speaking on behalf of colleagues such as Diana Herrero, the CDPHE's interim deputy director for the Division of Disease Control and Public Health Response, shared more details about how the vaccine will be divvied up. At the front of the line will be health-care workers, first responders and residents of long-term care facilities and nursing homes. They'll be followed by people living in congregate housing, essential workers and the like — and afterward, the general population will get its turn.

Polis doesn't believe those in the third category will have the option of a vaccination until 2021, and if a two-shot treatment wins the race, it could take as long as 45 days after the initial jab for immunity to take hold. Moreover, other unanswered questions, such as the final vaccine's effectiveness (percentages of between 50 and 70 percent were mentioned) and the time frame for immunity, leave plenty of room for uncertainty. For that reason, Polis stressed that the plans will be flexible and adaptable rather than carved in stone.

These unknowns make being as safe as possible now even more important, Polis emphasized. "Right now, concern is great in Denver, Adams and Arapahoe counties," he concluded. "They need to be particularly cautious and concerned."

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