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Why Polis Rejects Denver Plea for Homeless Vaccine Priority

Governor Jared Polis and a masked bovine at an SCL Health vaccination event at the National Western Complex on February 6.
Governor Jared Polis and a masked bovine at an SCL Health vaccination event at the National Western Complex on February 6.
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During a February 9 press conference about the state's efforts to combat COVID-19, Governor Jared Polis not only rejected Denver's plea to prioritize people experiencing homelessness for vaccinations, but offered multiple reasons why he doesn't think it's a good idea.

"It would cost lives to divert vaccines from people who are in their seventies to younger, healthier people just because they happen to be homeless," said Polis, stressing that homeless individuals ages 65 and up already qualify to be vaccinated, as does everyone else in that demographic, "regardless of whether they have a home or don't have a home."

Furthermore, Polis contended that vaccinating the homeless is more difficult, given the requirement of second doses for currently available vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna, since it's difficult to communicate with people about getting shot number two "if they lack a regular address." As a result, he argued, it will be logistically easier to give the homeless the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. (There's a problem with that concept, though: The Johnson & Johnson vaccine still hasn't been approved by federal authorities.)

During the opening presentation, Polis noted the relatively modest number of new COVID-19 cases (934) and hospitalizations (464) for the day. He also revealed that Colorado is 71 percent toward its goal of vaccinating at least 70 percent of those age seventy and up, and predicted that everyone in this group who wants it will receive at least one inoculation by the end of February. In addition, he expressed confidence that all of those between 65 and 69, as well as teachers, child-care providers and others in the education field, will achieve this same goal no later than the first week of March, despite a growing number of complaints about the shortage of appointments for the expanded pool.

Polis then recapped his conversation earlier today with members of the White House's coronavirus task force. He said he was pleased that the feds are now pledging to increase Colorado's vaccine supply by 9,000 doses a week for the next three weeks, and also cheered additional medication going directly to community health clinics under a program similar to one that previously targeted 25 pharmacies across the state. Still, Polis wants the state to have the ability to monitor the performance of these sites and be able to reassign unused vaccine to other providers if there are issues, calling for more transparency in the distribution plan.

After talking up his attendance at several vaccination events in recent days, including one organized by SCL Health at the National Western Complex on February 6, Polis introduced a pair of guests, Linda Sosa and Rebecca Vasquez, who sang the praises of their own vaccinations in both English and Spanish. Their presence was clearly an effort to promote more vaccine buy-in among Latinx Coloradans and other people of color, who've generally shown more reluctance to get the shots.

The question-and-answer session kicked off with an inquiry about vaccination problems; examples included some people who weren't inoculated because they lived in a different county, as well as concerns that individuals are crossing state lines to get shots. While confirming that state officials are dealing with the complaints, Polis emphasized that the problems seem to be based on mistakes and misunderstandings rather than systemic flaws.

Likewise, Polis did not lambaste SCL Health and Jefferson County Public Schools for a traffic jam created on February 7 at the National Western Complex after word of about 200 extra doses available on a first-come, first-served basis was sent out to a giant list of educators. Polis complimented the outfits for their attempt to prevent any doses from being wasted, and said they've now learned there are more efficient ways of going about this in the future.

Polis concluded by encouraging Coloradans to continue wearing masks in public, practicing social distancing and avoiding getting together with different households while the number of vaccinated people grows, in order to avoid what he referred to as a "third peak."

He added that getting the vaccine "is simple, easy and almost entirely painless. It will allow you to get your lives back, and allow all of us as a state to return to normalcy that much sooner."

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