Colorado could receive COVID-19 vaccines in a few weeks; here’s what health experts have to say

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DENVER — Colorado is expecting to receive 46,800 doses in the first COVID-19 vaccine shipment once the FDA authorizes use, which could be as soon as Dec. 11-14, according to the Tri-County Health Department (TCDH).

Both Moderna and Pfizer have announced their vaccines are 94% and 95% effective, respectively, and filed for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

As the rollout looms, it’s raising questions for Coloradans about what to expect and if they should be concerned about how quickly the vaccine was developed.

Medical professionals like Emily Cheshire, a family nurse practitioner and a University of Colorado College of Nursing assistant professor, said they’re fielding a lot of questions from patients wanting to know more about the safety of the vaccine.

“I get questions around the safety because it came out so quickly,” Cheshire said. “I would say a wide variety [of questions], and I think they’re all very valid.”

She said many of those questions are coming from women who are pregnant, especially because pregnant women weren’t included in clinical trials of the vaccine.

“We don’t have data to support the safety and efficacy in pregnancy women specifically, but that’s OK. We don’t have to know because it’s not available to you yet.” Cheshire said. “As populations of people get the vaccine, we’re going to have more and more data available.”

Cheshire said she trusts the science, but understands patients’ concerns. She said people with questions should bring those to their doctors.

Elizabeth Carlton, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Colorado School of Public Health, said the trials of the vaccine were designed to address some of the concerns, like the safety for people over 65.

“I know that things that are new can often induce fear,” Carlton said. “Quite frankly, I would rather have a vaccine and have a brief, uncomfortable stab in my arm than to end up in the hospital with COVID.”

In a Nov. 20 press conference, Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Executive Director Bob McDonald said scientists weren’t starting from scratch when they began developing a COVID-19 vaccine. Work began years ago on a vaccine for a similar virus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.

“They picked up where they left off with the development of a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, so I’m confident when this rolls out that this will be effective,” McDonald said. “I see 2021 looking a lot different than where we are right now.”

Dr. Eric France, the chief medical officer for Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE), said many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ in the body, but the Moderna and Pfizer are mRNA vaccines, which utilizes new technology. These vaccines teach cells how to make protein to trigger an immune response in the body that produces antibodies. Those antibodies protect against infection if the real virus enters the body.

About 30,000 people participated in Moderna’s trials and Pfizer’s included about 44,000 people.

For anyone concerned about politics playing a role, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, said the results of the trials were monitored carefully by an independent safety monitoring board, not the federal government or pharmaceutical companies. The FDA also waits 60 days before granting an EUA because more than 90% of all adverse events involved in vaccines are experienced within 30 to 45 days.

“I will get vaccinated when my time arrives,” Fauci said. “I promise you that.”

Whether Coloradans choose to inoculate remains to be seen, but Rep. Kyle Mullica, D-Northglenn, who is also an ER nurse and an advocate for immunizations, said a mandate is unlikely, though he does believe people should get the COVID-19 vaccine once it’s approved.

CDPHE has said the vaccine will be distributed based on a vaccination plan going to the most at-risk Coloradans, like health care workers, first responders and residents of long-term care and nursing homes. The current vaccination plan is a draft that will be updated when state officials have more information on various factors, including available vaccines the federal government sends to Colorado, according to CDPHE.

The TCHD said the first shipment of vaccine will go to 10-15 different hubs in various counties identified by the CDPHE Wednesday to be held until the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices issues recommendations, which will likely take a day or two.