Polis: General Public Could Get Vaccine as Soon as Late April

Governor Jared Polis's latest Facebook profile pic.
Governor Jared Polis's latest Facebook profile pic.
Today, February 26, for his first press conference expressly about COVID-19 in two weeks, Governor Jared Polis laid out the schedule for the next stages of vaccinations in the state. He offered a hard date (March 5) in regard to inoculations for folks sixty and over, among others, and a best guess (March 21) for a group dominated by individuals fifty and up. But he also estimated that the general public could start lining up for shots as soon as late April or early May.

The information dump offered by Polis and two guests — Brigadier General Scott Sherman, who's overseeing statewide vaccine distribution, and Scott Bookman, incident commander for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — was hefty, and probably left some members of the public feeling baffled and overwhelmed. But Polis stressed that the complexities will be lessened as April nears its end, with the only likely prioritization taking place after that being possible demarcation by age. If vaccine supply is plentiful, all adult Coloradans may be able to schedule appointments; if not, eligibility could roll out to those forty and older first, then thirty and older, and so on.

At the outset of his remarks, Polis noted that the daily figure of 1,521 newly identified COVID-19 cases marked a significant increase over recent days, and used the rise to remind residents that nearly three-quarters of those who live in Colorado have yet to be vaccinated — and until more of them are, the risk of a third viral spike remains quite real. Granted, hospitalizations, which he noted is a lagging statistic, continue to be modest in comparison with data from late 2020; as of the February 26, 358 people in the state were receiving on-site care related to the disease, and 59 had been discharged over the previous 24 hours. But to prevent these metrics from heading in the wrong direction, he urged continued mask-wearing, social distancing and the like.

Then came the big announcements.

On March 5, Polis said, members of the general public ages sixty and up can begin scheduling appointments. Also approved for vaccination on that date under what is technically referred to as phase 1B3 will be agriculture workers, employees at grocery stores, and any Coloradan between ages sixteen and 59 with two or more co-morbidities that increase the danger of serious consequences from COVID-19. (Approved conditions include people undergoing cancer treatment, those with certain heart maladies or who exceed certain obesity thresholds, individuals with Down syndrome and more.) This group is large — around 958,000 total — and includes about 20,000 ag professionals, 200,000 grocery store staffers, 400,000 with co-morbidities, and 338,000 between the ages of sixty and 64.

Next up, on or near March 21, phase 1B4 is expected to launch. This collective is more than twice as big as phase 1B3 — approximately 2.5 million people, led by everyone fifty and up, plus student-facing higher education faculty and staff, restaurant employees and those in other essential jobs who have regular contact with members of the public, direct-care providers for Coloradans experiencing homelessness, journalists, folks from 16 to 49 with one of the morbidities mentioned earlier, and anyone who received a placebo during the vaccination trial.

Adding to the confusion were the assorted ways in which all of these residents will be scheduled for shots. For instance, many agriculture workers, such as those at the JBS plant in Greeley, which suffered one of the deadliest outbreaks during the pandemic last year, will probably be vaccinated at their job site. For their part, grocery workers are likely to be vaccinated at pharmacies at stores where they're employed, while the fifty-and-over crowd will handle scheduling themselves, by contacting hospitals, clinics, pharmacies or vaccination centers around the state. Six of these centers were discussed specifically; the one in Denver is to be located at the former Pepsi Center, now known as Ball Arena.

Polis predicted that phase 1B4 will have largely run its course by late April or early May, when the opportunities to get vaccinated will expand to adult Coloradans at large. In the meantime, he celebrated vaccination successes thus far. He said about 67 percent of Coloradans seventy and up have received at least their first shot, and predicted that the goal of 70 percent will be achieved before the weekend is out. Even better, 90 percent of phase 1A health-care workers have received both doses, with the overwhelming majority of residents at skilled-nursing facilities and other operations catering to seniors in a similar situation.

When asked about problems scheduling appointments during a question-and-answer session with journalists, Polis touted the Colorado Vaccine Finder, an application created by recent Westword profile subject Nick Muerdter, as well as the Twitter account @COVaxAlerts. He also stressed that virus variants remain at a fairly low level right now and said there was no evidence yet that their presence in Colorado is climbing substantially. Likewise, he celebrated the anticipated emergency-use proclamation related to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine (it won approval shortly after the media availability ended) and urged folks to gladly accept any of the treatments available, since they're the key to ending the pandemic.

The most curious moment of the event involved Polis's response to a query about renewing the statewide order for Coloradans to wear facial coverings in public when it expires next week. He avoided giving a direct answer not once, but twice, and shifted to another subject as quickly as possible.

And after two weeks, there there was no shortage of subjects.
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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