Coloradans age 60 and up, some essential workers to get COVID-19 vaccine starting March 5

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Colorado’s newest COVID-19 vaccine prioritization plan has those age 60 and older, some essential workers and people with multiple high-risk health conditions getting their first doses starting next week.

In what is promised to be the final change in Colorado’s COVID-19 vaccine prioritization plan, Gov. Jared Polis announced Friday that some essential workers will have to wait until the end of March to be eligible for the vaccine while the state moved up the eligibility for older Coloradans.

Current supply projections show the general population could become eligible for the vaccine as soon as late April or early May, Polis said.

Under the state’s new Phase 1B.3, beginning March 5, here’s who will be eligible for a coronavirus vaccine:

  • Anyone age 60 or older
  • Anyone with two or more high-risk health conditions
  • Agriculture workers (including employees at JBS and Cargill)
  • Grocery store employees

Polis said there are almost 1 million Coloradans in Phase 1B.3, and they hope to get all people in that group their first vaccines in about 4-5 weeks. 

The goal in Phase 1B.3 is “to make sure we are prioritizing those who need (the vaccine) the most,” state health department Incident Commander Scott Bookman said during Friday’s news conference.

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In late March — officials are aiming for March 21 — vaccine eligibility will expand to people in these groups:

  • Anyone age 50 or older
  • Anyone with at least one high-risk health condition 
  • Student-facing higher education faculty and staff
  • Food and restaurant employees 
  • Manufacturing workers
  • U.S. Postal Service employees 
  • Public and specialized transportation employees 
  • Public health employees 
  • Human services employees
  • People providing direct services to Coloradans experiencing homelessness 
  • Frontline journalists 
  • Select local and state government employees
  • Adults who received a placebo in a COVID-19 vaccine trial

“The goal of 1B.4 is real to ensure that those who are exposed to COVID because of the work that they do have access to the vaccine,” Bookman said.

These are the health conditions someone must have to be considered high-risk and qualify for a vaccine:

  • Cancer (currently undergoing treatment or received treatment in the last month)
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD
  • Diabetes
  • Down syndrome
  • Specific heart conditions (heart failure, cardiomyopathies, coronary heart disease and severe valvular/congenital heart disease)
  • Obesity 
  • Pregnancy 
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Solid organ transplant
  • People with disabilities who require direct care in their home
  • People with disabilities that prevent them from wearing masks

There are about 2.5 million people in Phase 1B.4, so Bookman said people need to be patient when waiting their turn for the vaccine. 

After that phase, the general public will become eligible for the vaccine. While the vaccine could become available to anyone who wants one as soon as late April or early May, eligibility will depend on vaccine supply. If supply is still limited, Polis said the state may open up eligibility based on age group first: those age 40 and older, then those ages 16-39.

“We want to align when you can get (the vaccine) with when the vaccines are there for you to get it,” Polis said. 

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Colorado officials know how much vaccine we’ll get from the federal government about three weeks in advance now. Brigadier General Scott Sherman said Colorado is expecting to receive over the next three weeks:

  • March 1-7: 166,490 first doses; 105,544 second doses
  • March 8-14: 166,490 first doses; 125,498 second doses
  • March 15-21: 144,590; first doses; 144,590 second doses

These estimates include doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is expected to get emergency authorization by next week. Sherman said the state expects to get 45,500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week and about 400,000 total doses in March.

Polis reminded people to be patient as vaccine eligibility expands. They expect it to take about 4-5 weeks to get everyone in each phase their first vaccine, meaning some in Phase 1B.3 might get their first vaccine March 5 and some might not until the end of the month.

While more people become eligible for a vaccine, it will still take months to vaccinate enough Coloradans to reach herd immunity, which experts say will be reached when about 70% of residents are fully vaccinated.

In the meantime, Polis said while there are still many unprotected Coloradans, it’ll be important for people to continue wearing masks, social distance and minimize their interactions with people outside their household. 

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Sady Swanson covers public safety, criminal justice, Larimer County government and more throughout Northern Colorado. You can send your story ideas to her at sswanson@coloradoan.com or on Twitter at @sadyswan. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.