COVID vaccine in Colorado: Gov. Polis updates rules for distribution

Colorado’s health department has revised its plan detailing who will receive the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine — which could arrive in a matter of days — to give the highest priority to health care workers who work with COVID-19 patients and people who live and work in long-term care facilities.

The new plan divides vaccine distribution into three seasonal phases, with Phase 1 coming this winter, Phase 2 in the spring and Phase 3 — when anyone aged 18 to 64 who doesn’t fit into a higher-risk category — can be vaccinated.

“Based on the evidence we have now, it will be summer until we expect the general public to have access,” said Scott Bookman, COVID-19 incident commander for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Previously, the state’s draft vaccination plan placed health care workers, first responders and nursing home residents in the first phase of its mass vaccination campaign.

Under the new plan, health care workers with less contact with COVID-19 patients — including those in home health, hospice and dental settings — and first responders, such as police and paramedics, will be considered a lower priority.

Still, they will be among the first groups to receive the vaccine, with Phase 1 expected to occur in the winter, according to a summary of the plan reviewed by The Denver Post.

There is expected to be a very limited supply of any COVID-19 vaccine that is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is why state and public health officials have drafted a phased approach on who will receive the first doses when it arrives.

The changes in the state’s vaccination plan comes as the FDA is set to meet Thursday to consider an emergency use authorization, meaning Colorado could receive its first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine by the weekend.

The state health department has said Pfizer could ship the first doses of the vaccine within 24 hours of the FDA granting it an emergency use authorization.

Under the new plan, the state is expected to enter the second phase of its distribution plan by the spring.

The people expected to receive the vaccine in that phase are:

  • People 65 and older
  • Individuals with underlying heath conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, chronic lung disease, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, cancer, or are immunocompromised
  • People who interact directly with the public, such as school staff and grocery store workers
  • People who work in high density settings, such as farms and meatpacking plants
  • Workers serving people that live in high-density settings
  • Other health care workers not covered in Phase 1
  • Adults who received a placebo during a COVID-19 vaccine trial

It’s unclear exactly how those in the second phase would be prioritized. The state’s previous plan prioritized those living in congregate settings, such as jails and homeless shelters, before essential workers and those with underlying health conditions — although all three groups made up the same phase.

The document reviewed by The Post did not mention people living in congregate settings, which has been a matter of contention as Gov. Jared Polis previously said incarcerated people should not receive access to a vaccine before those with underlying health conditions, despite the initial framework crafted by public health officials.

With the first batch of vaccine likely to come within a matter of days, the state’s Unified Coordination Center — created by the health department and the State Emergency Operations Center — held an exercise on Tuesday to practice delivering Pfizer’s vaccine, which is especially difficult to distribute in part because of the ultra-cold temperatures required to store it.

The Department of Public Health and Environment has ordered 46,800 doses of Pfizer’s two-shot vaccine. The agency expects to receive subsequent doses in weekly batches. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will allocate doses based on population and Colorado is expected to receive 1.69% of available vaccine.

Colorado also plans to order 95,600 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, which is also still waiting for emergency use authorization.

Denver Post reporter Alex Burness contributed to this report. 

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