COVID-19 vaccine: State to prioritize Coloradans 70 and older, teachers, grocery staff

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Colorado has moved teachers, grocery store workers and older residents, among others, higher on the priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine.

The state previously released a phased plan for distributing coronavirus vaccines through summer 2021. In the updated plan released Wednesday, the state added older Coloradans and other essential workers to Phase 1B of the plan, which some areas of the state are currently in after vaccinating all in Phase 1A, Gov. Jared Polis said during a news conference.

Phase 1B will now also prioritize Coloradans age 70 and older as well as front-line workers in education, food and agriculture, manufacturing, the U.S. Postal Service, public transportation, specialized transportation, grocery stores, public health and journalism. Those providing direct care to people experiencing homelessness will also be prioritized in this phase.

Essential workers in executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government have also been moved up to Phase 1B. 

More than 78% of COVID-19 deaths in Colorado have been in people age 70 and older, Polis said, so prioritizing those people will help significantly decrease deaths and hospitalizations statewide. 

“We really have the opportunity to reduce coronavirus deaths by almost 80% in our state,” Polis said. “That would end the crisis phase.”

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Polis estimated it will take about 4-5 weeks to get all those age 70 and older who want a vaccine vaccinated, and people can check their local hospitals to see if and when they are able to receive a vaccine.

To vaccinate essential workers, Polis said the health department is working with employers of essential workers to coordinate vaccine distribution.

In the updated Phase 1B, health care workers in home health, hospice, pharmacy, dental and EMS and other front-line workers — including firefighters, police officers, COVID-19 response personnel, correctional workers and funeral services workers — will continue to be prioritized. 

In the first phase of vaccine distribution, Phase 1A, the state’s plan prioritized vaccines for front-line health care workers — specifically those in direct contact with COVID-19 patients for 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period — and those who live and work in long-term care facilities.

Polis said Wednesday that most parts of the state have completed or almost completed Phase 1A.

Fort Collins’ first front-line health care workers received their first vaccines in mid-December, and the first long-term care facility staff and residents were vaccinated Monday. 

Phases 1A and 1B are set to be completed in the winter, with those in Phase 2 getting vaccinated in the spring and the general population getting the vaccine in the summer. 

With the changes to Phase 1B, Phase 2 now includes:

  • People ages 60-69
  • People ages 16-64 with preexisting conditions, including: obesity, diabetes, chronic lung disease, significant heart disease, cancer or are otherwise immunocompromised
  • Other essential workers and local government staff
  • Adults who received a placebo during a COVID-19 vaccine trial

Distribution of a vaccine in Phase 2 is set to happen in the spring. Anyone not prioritized in these phases will likely get the vaccine in summer 2021. 

As of Tuesday, nearly 74,000 COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in Colorado, according to the state’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard.

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Editor’s note: The age range of adults who can get the vaccine in Phase 2 was updated after a news release from the state health department corrected a graphic previously shared about the vaccine phases. Adults ages 60-69 will be eligible in Phase 2.

Sady Swanson covers public safety, K-12 education 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.