Student vaccine clinic

Lauren Baughman, a junior at Cherry Creek High School receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up clinic hosted by Denver Health and Denver Public Schools on Saturday April 17, 2021.

Denver and 11 other Colorado counties have given at least one vaccine dose to 70% of their eligible residents, according to state data, three weeks ahead of President Joe Biden's target date.

Gov. Jared Polis said Thursday morning that he was "thrilled" that nearly a fifth of Colorado's counties have at least partially vaccinated 70% of their 12-and-up residents. Denver hit the 70% mark earlier this week, joining three other metro-area counties. The capital has seen its overall COVID-19 caseload plummet over the last month, hitting lows not seen since last summer or even earlier, during the first weeks of the pandemic. 

In terms of vaccination rates, Colorado's best-performing counties have long been San Juan and San Miguel counties. San Juan is approaching 90% uptake among its eligible residents, and San Miguel is now at 83%. Summit County, the site of the first confirmed COVID-19 case in Colorado, is now at 80%. 

The other counties to top 70%, according to state data:

  • Mineral (77.7%);
  • Broomfield (77.2%);
  • Eagle (76.6%);
  • Pitkin (74.6%);
  • Boulder (73.9%);
  • Routt (72.8%);
  • Jefferson (72.4%);
  • Gunnison (70.6%);
  • and Denver (70.1%)

The rates are lower when looking at rates of fully vaccinated residents. Through that lens, San Juan remains at the top, with 76.1% of its 12-and-older population vaccinated. Mineral, San Miguel and Summit all have more than 70% fully inoculated. Seven other counties -- including Denver, Boulder and Jefferson counties -- are above 60%.

Those 12 Colorado counties are ahead of the state and national curve. They've outstripped President Biden's goal of having at least 70% of all adults being inoculated with at least one dose by July 4. 

Despite the success of a dozen counties, nearly half of the state's counties have still yet to cross the 50% threshold of residents with at least one dose. El Paso County, for instance, is just at 49%, according to state data. A quarter of those counties have rates below 40%. Among the worst is Bent County, which only recently hit 20%. Crowley County -- which, with Bent, has consistently been at the bottom of the list -- has given at least one dose to just 18.3% of its residents (health officials in those two counties have not returned previous requests for comment). 

Colorado is far from the first state to have counties surpass 70% vaccination rates. On Wednesday, the mayor of Seattle touted her town as the first major American city to hit 70% fully vaccinated. Data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show significant uptake in various parts of the country, particularly in the northeast and upper Midwest. 

It's difficult to compare Denver to other, similarly sized cities. Individual states, as well as the CDC, typically calculate vaccination rates by county. Denver County is tight around the city itself, rather than the entire metro area. But in comparably sized cities, like Las Vegas or Boston, their vaccination rates are tied to their counties, which encompass hundreds of thousands of more residents than those who live in the city proper. 

But for some counties with similar populations, Denver compares favorably. Missouri's Jackson County, home to Kansas City, has just 41.2% of its eligible residents fully vaccinated, a full 20 points behind Colorado's capital. Oklahoma City's Oklahoma County, with fewer than 50,000 more inhabitants than Denver, has vaccinated just under 47% percent of its 12-and-older residents. Portland's Multnomah County, which is larger than Denver, has vaccinated slightly more residents: 64% fully inoculated. 

Cincinnati's Hamilton County, about 70,000 residents larger than Denver, has fully vaccinated roughly 53% of its 12-and-older population, according to the CDC. Louisville's Jefferson County has a similar rate.

Still, despite Denver's favorable position compared to some of its peers, vaccination uptake here has slowed, as it has across Colorado. At its peak in April, the city was averaging more than 10,200 vaccinations every day. That fell to just over 6,000 in early May and has fallen further, to around 2,600 earlier this week.

Colorado as a whole has experienced a similar trend. It's prompted Gov. Jared Polis to announce two incentive programs -- one with cash prizes for adults, another with scholarships for teens -- to try to boost uptake. But more than two weeks since those enticements have been unveiled, there's been no corresponding spike in rates. Polis, who initially said that other states with similar programs saw significant increases, has since tempered his message: He told reporters last week that the state actually hadn't been expecting a spike and had been more focused on ensuring the vaccination rate didn't drop further.