Coloradans ages 60 and older will begin receiving vaccinations next week, Gov. Jared Polis announced Friday, amid another shift in vaccine priorities that include the potential for inoculation efforts to reach the general public as soon as late April.
Along with the 60-and-up population, Colorado will open up vaccinations to those who have two or more of certain comorbidities, and agricultural and grocery store workers, on March 5. That group represents more than 950,000 residents, said Scott Bookman, the state's COVID incident commander.
Then the state will begin vaccinating its last priority groups ahead of the general public. Vaccines will open up to those over 49 years old as soon as March 21, in addition to student-facing higher education staff and faculty; restaurant and food service workers; essential workers within the postal service and manufacturing industries; faith leaders; frontline journalists; and workers within public health, transportation and health care for the homeless.
That group is large — roughly 2.5 million people — and Bookman said it's "going to require patience and it's going to require a significant increase in vaccine supply."
Fortunately, that appears to have happened: Polis and Bookman both said the state was able to begin vaccinating as many priority groups as it did in March because of increased supply.
Colorado National Guard Brig. General Scott Sherman said the state will receive more than 400,000 doses in March from Pfizer and Moderna, and he also said Colorado should get 400,000 additional doses from the soon-to-be approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Like Bookman, he pleaded for patience.
Polis said that group, the 50-and-up and other late March populations, should take three to five weeks, which would mean the state could begin offering vaccines to the general public by as early as late April. Indeed, he said that could even be mid-April, if vaccine supply improves significantly. But the general public may need to wait until mid-May if supply doesn't pick up as much as hoped, he said.
There's also potential that the general public could be stratified, again depending on supply. It could, Polis said, be further broken down by age: 40-and-up, then 30-and-up and onward.
Polis and other health officials have said that Colorado needs 70% of its population vaccinated to reach herd immunity. The governor's set a goal of inoculating 70% of the state's 70-and-up population and has set similar standards for other age groups and populations. The state is on track to meet such benchmarks for both K-12 educators and those 70 and up, he said.
"When you have the opportunity to sign up and you're eligible, get vaccinated," he said.
The Friday announcements represented the latest tweak to the state's ever-shifting priority guidelines. Initially, there were three phases, with the general public being last. Now there are just two, but phase one has gobbled up every other group but the general public.
Polis said the decision to tweak again was based on supply. To a degree, the time periods don't matter: Had he opened up vaccinations to everyone but the general public on March 5, most would still have to wait several weeks. He said he preferred to establish priority groups and timelines based on when doses will actually be available.
"I think it would've led to more frustration if we told people March 5 but in fact vaccines weren't there for them," he said.
The backdrop of the vaccine news continues to be the COVID crisis at large. Though Colorado has pushed down its COVID case counts, as well as hospitalizations, cases have seen an uptick in recent days. Health officials said earlier this week that they're not exactly sure what's causing this plateauing, which came after weeks of near-constant declines.