Polis: Colorado Could Vaccinate Five Times More Folks If Not for Feds

Governor Jared Polis used a visual aid at a recent press conference about COVID-19.
Governor Jared Polis used a visual aid at a recent press conference about COVID-19. YouTube
Governor Jared Polis's January 19 press conference about the state's ongoing fight against COVID-19 was one of the briefest since the start of the pandemic, owing largely to the simplicity of its central message: The state could be vaccinating up to five times as many people every week with the current infrastructure if the federal government would up the supply.

"We need more vaccine, we need more vaccine, we need more vaccine," Polis emphasized. "It's frustrating how slow this has gone."

At the outset of the conversation, Polis highlighted the commemoration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on January 18, and stressed that Coloradans should be able to celebrate it in person next year. He then moved on to new COVID-19 stats: 1,685 cases added today and 727 individuals currently hospitalized for treatment of the novel coronavirus. Both stats represent improvements over November and December, but rather than focusing on this trend, Polis expressed condolences for the 4,502 people in the state who've now lost their lives as a direct result of the disease, as well as the 400,000-plus American victims.

Public-health officials currently estimate that one in every 105 people in Colorado is carrying the virus, and while the positivity rate for the state is back under the important 5 percent threshold for the first time since autumn, Polis stressed that vaccines are the true pathway to ending the contagion. He expressed confidence that 70 percent of people age seventy and above will be vaccinated by the end of February, but said that percentage would be higher should the feds get their act together.

This week, for example, a one-time bump of 40,000 doses, achieved by using medication set aside for second injections for first vaccinations instead, will result in around 120,000 members of the seventy-and-over crowd getting their first shot. (Polis insisted that this approach won't cause problems with second-dose amounts down the line.) Still, that total represents only about one of every five individuals in this demographic — so four out of five people eligible won't be able to immediately take advantage of this opportunity. Should the vaccine supply increase, Polis said the target age range could be expanded to anyone 65 or over, followed by teachers and other high-priority individuals in phase 1B of the state's vaccination rollout plan. But he admitted that he has no idea if that expansion will happen, since the state typically doesn't find out how much of the vaccine it will be getting next week until just days before — a gripe Polis said he shared on multiple calls with members of the vaccine transition team under incoming president Joe Biden.

Not all of the questions raised after the prepared remarks involved COVID-19. Some pertained to possible violent protests at the Colorado State Capitol in conjunction with Biden's inauguration, set to take place in Washington, D.C., tomorrow, January 20. Polis said he has no information about any Colorado-specific threats, only warnings pertaining to potential actions aimed at all fifty state capitals. But out of an abundance of caution, he said he'll be signing an executive order later today to ensure that the Colorado National Guard will be on call and ready to defend any potential targets of domestic terrorists and the like. He also pointed out that the 200 National Guard members who have traveled to Washington, D.C., to defend the U.S. Capitol are already at the site and ready to go.

Back on the vaccine front, Polis promised that officials would redouble their efforts to make sure medication is available on an equitable basis; as Westword reported last week, early distribution in Denver has tended to be higher in affluent neighborhoods rather than those dominated by communities of color. He also urged seniors in the state to be patient, even as he acknowledged his irritation over the amount of vaccine Colorado has been receiving.

"The biggest thing we suffer from," he said, "is simply a lack of vaccine."
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
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