Gov. Polis orders hospitals to use second doses of COVID-19 vaccines right away

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DENVER – Some 40,000 Coloradans aged 70 and up will be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine earlier than expected after Governor Jared Polis ordered hospitals to repurpose second doses of the vaccine as first doses.

In a letter to vaccine providers sent Monday, Gov. Polis said the state had received large quantities of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and instead of letting them sit on shelves to be applied as second doses, Polis ordered hospitals to get them into the arms of Coloradans who need them immediately.

“Extraordinary times calls for extraordinary efforts so I ask you to begin to actively manage your supply on a week to week basis, and do not let any vaccines sit on shelves,” Polis wrote in the letter, adding providers should only retain enough second doses for the week of Jan. 18-25.

The state said it was immediately freeing up 20,605 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 19,120 doses of the Moderna vaccine for a total of 39,726 doses; the state would backfill additional second doses as needed in the coming weeks when more doses are expected to arrive, Polis wrote.

News of the new guidance for hospitals and other vaccine providers come only three days after Polis said he was “shocked we were lied to” after learning there was no stockpile reserve of vaccines that the Health and Human Services secretary promised earlier last week would soon be released.

The expected shipment of around 230,000 doses would have likely allowed about half of people age 70 and up to receive their first shot by the end of this week, Polis said during a news conference Friday.

Polis wrote Monday that freeing up 40,000 second doses and repurposing them as first doses would allow more people in that age group get an appointment sooner.

The order outlined in Monday’s letter does not change who gets the shot first, meaning educators and other groups will still have to wait a little bit more before they can get vaccinated.

“The top priority right now is to get 70 year olds vaccinated as they account for 78% of the deaths in our state,” Polis said, adding the state is moving as quickly as it can to get 70% of Coloradans in that age group vaccinated by the end of February. “We expect that if federal supply continues to arrive in the state steadily, we may begin to vaccinate teachers in early March.”

As of Monday afternoon, Colorado reported 273,340 people had received their first dose of the vaccine while another 49,595 had received their second dose.

Federal, state and local health officials recommend Coloradans receive the two doses of the same vaccine to make sure they have the best protection available against the virus.