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Colorado vaccinating those 70 and older for COVID-19 as quickly as possible, governor says

Kelly Lyell
Fort Collins Coloradoan

Colorado is administering COVID-19 vaccines to those ages 70 and older as fast as it is receiving them, Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday.

The only holdup to vaccinating more people faster, the governor said during a news conference, is the supply the state is receiving from the federal government.

Colorado is receiving about 70,000 vaccine doses each week, Polis said, and has the capability to administer twice that many if, and when, additional doses become available.

“We aim to use every dose, every week,” Polis said.

Colorado has more than 530,000 residents ages 70 and older, Polis said, and at the current rate of vaccination, all of them who want the vaccine should be able to receive their first dose by the end of February. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which Colorado receives a roughly equal supply of each week from the federal government, require two doses given three to four weeks apart to achieve the maximum rate of protection from COVID-19.

Both vaccines were shown to be about 95% effective in clinical trials within one to two weeks after receiving the second dose, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Roger Wolfe of Fort Collins was among several residents over age 75 selected for a pilot program run by 
UCHealth to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Although age is only one of the factors associated with the increased risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19, it is "for right now ... the single most important confounding variable,” Dr. Richard Zane, chief innovation officer for UCHealth, said Tuesday.

Polis said 78% of the 4,281 deaths in Colorado attributed to COVID-19 have been among people ages 70 and older, as have 40% of cases in the state that have required hospitalization. 

COVID-19 "can be deadly for people of any age," Polis said, but more people in younger demographics who are hospitalized "do make it out successfully."

Tracking COVID:Larimer County and Colorado COVID-19 case, vaccine and hospital data for January 2021

In contrast, Polis said those who are 80 and older who get COVID-19 have an 8.2% chance of dying, those who are 75 to 79 years old have a 3.2% chance of dying and those 70 to 74 years old have a 1.7% chance of dying.

“This is not a good virus to get at any age, but we can make a substantial impact in saving lives when we complete the vaccination of protection of those that are age 70 and up," he said.

How vaccines are being given out

Colorado is providing 50% of its weekly supply of the two vaccines to hospital systems across the state, Polis said, with 20% going to community health clinics, 20% to local public health agencies, fire departments and law enforcement agencies, and 10% to retail pharmacies CVS and Walgreens for distribution through a federal program to residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care and assisted living facilities.

“This sort of multifaceted approach is really to make sure that we are distributing vaccines equitably,” Polis said. “If you’re 70 and up, whether you’re uninsured and live in the San Luis Valley, whether you’re wealthy and insured and live in Aspen or Boulder, whether you live in a multigenerational household in Westminster, you have no barriers to getting the vaccine if you’re 70 and up.

“Now the frustrating thing is that there’s not enough vaccine to do it this week, to give everybody 70 and up a vaccine.”

Health providers across the state are contacting people 70 and over who already are in their computer systems to schedule appointments to receive the vaccine, the governor said, and setting up websites and phone lines for others to register. Links to those websites and phone numbers can be found on the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s COVID-19 website, covid19.colorado.gov.

UCHealth already has a tab on its website for nonmembers age 70 and over to sign up to receive a vaccine, Zane said, and those who do will be included with the health system’s members in the process that is randomly sending out invitations to schedule appointments. A call-in line for those without internet access should be available in the next few days, he said.

Centura Health already has more than 275,000 Coloradans ages 70 and older in its computer system, CEO Peter Banko said, and is contacting them to schedule appointments for vaccinations. Centura Health will have a portal for nonmembers to sign up for vaccinations, as well, in the coming days, he said.

More:No COVID-19 variant found in tests at Loveland nursing home

Salud Family Health, designed to serve those with limited or no health insurance, is offering vaccinations at 13 sites in 10 communities, including Fort Collins, said John Santistevan, the organization’s president and CEO. Salud’s phone lines have been overwhelmed with people trying to make appointments, he said, so he urged people 70 and older to schedule appointments online. Salud, he said, has vaccinated 4,480 people so far and can vaccinate as many as 1,200 a day statewide.

DenverHealth, Banner Health, Kaiser Permanente, SCL Health and other health providers in the state are also offering vaccination appointments for those 70 and older through registration on websites or over the phone, the governor said.

The state set up mobile sites to provide vaccinations in San Luis and Center in southern Colorado and at Zion Baptist Church in Denver’s Whitter neighborhood last week, Polis said, and plans to provide that service in coming weeks to other locations across the state where access would otherwise be limited. UCHealth is planning to set up a large-scale vaccination site in the Denver area by the end of this month where it would be able to vaccinate as many as 10,000 people in one day, Zane said.

Polis said the multifaceted approach remains the best way to distribute the vaccine based on the current supply available to Colorado and efforts to prioritize those with the highest risk of suffering serious consequences from contracting COVID-19.

“We think it’s generally more convenient to have 10 sites that do 1,000 a day than one that does 10,000 a day in terms of people accessing the vaccine,” he said.

About 1 in 105 Coloradoans are currently contagious with COVID-19, Polis said, so it’s important for everyone to continue to practice social distancing, wear masks when around others indoors and out, and to avoid social gatherings.

Colorado is well ahead of most states in getting its residents vaccinated for COVID-19, according to a Bloomberg News tracker. Some states, Polis said, have been overly restrictive in who they are allowing to be vaccinated first, leading to “a clog in the system.”

Contact Coloradoan reporter Kelly Lyell at kellylyell@coloradoan.com, follow him on Twitter @KellyLyell and find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/KellyLyell.news. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.