A limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines could be distributed in Colorado within a couple of weeks, but it could be months — if not a year — before everyone who wants the two-shot vaccination can get it.
Colorado has a tentative distribution plan in place once two vaccines receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration under emergency use authorization.
Once those approvals come through, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are expected to be available within 24 hours. The U.S. population has been sorted into several groups, 1A, 1B, 2, 3 and 4, each of which will get access to the vaccine in phases.
By doing extensive planning now, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment hopes to be “have a robust, efficient, and equitable vaccination process in place the moment a vaccine becomes available.”
“It will be a big job, but I think we will be ready for it,” Dr. Eric France, CDPHE’s chief medical officer, said in an interview with the Coloradoan.
The state is expecting about 47,000 doses to begin vaccinating front-line workers, but the exact number has yet to be determined, France said. What the state receives may not be enough to vaccinate everyone eligible in the first round.
Both vaccine candidates require two doses. The first shot would be followed with a second shot 21 days later.
“It’s very true we may not have enough doses in the first shipment to cover all of those in phase 1A,” France said. The state is working with local health care systems and hospitals to identify and prioritize workers who would be exposed to COVID-19 in a hospital setting, he said.
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It would be up to each health system, with guidance from the state health department, to decide which groups to vaccinate first if there isn’t enough to go around.
“Hopefully they would only be waiting a few weeks” to get more doses, France said.
As per state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, those expected to receive the first doses are front-line health care workers including in-patient health care workers such as those at assisted living facilities; outpatient health care workers, including home health workers; and outpatient pharmacists.
The state is working with the Colorado National Guard and the Colorado Department of Public Safety to ensure the vaccines get to every county for distribution.
So far, more than 1,200 facilities in Colorado have expressed interest in being a COVID-19 vaccine provider when a vaccine becomes available, according to the state.
Initially, local public health agencies would connect with hospital systems to determine the number of doses they would get and who would do the vaccinating, France said.
As the vaccine becomes more widely available, the network of COVID-19 vaccine providers will expand to include doctors’ offices, pharmacies, homeless shelters, colleges and universities, senior centers, school-based health centers and other health and medical locations.
It’s still too early to know what hurdles the state will face in delivering vaccines, France said. The state has done dry runs of deliveries and feels it is ready to go. “But always, new things pop up as you put (plans) into play.”
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Where vaccines stand
The FDA is expected to hold a hearing Dec. 10 on Pfizer’s request and Dec. 17 on Moderna’s request to approve their COVID-19 vaccines, which have both shown to be between 94% and 95% effective.
Pfizer submitted its application Nov. 20; Moderna followed suit on Monday.
If approved, distribution of an estimated 40 million doses could start being shipped to states within 24 hours. Each state’s allocation will be based on its population.
CDPHE and the CDC have unveiled a tiered distribution system to first get the vaccine to front-line health care workers and those most at risk. Kids and pregnant women are not included in any phase because the vaccines haven’t been tested on pregnant women and only one potential vaccine is being tested in kids 12 and younger.
If approved, the vaccines come at a time when cases are skyrocketing across the country and Colorado. The vaccines are seen as a game-changer that could help get the country back to some semblance of normalcy.
On Tuesday, Larimer County was closing in on 10,000 cases; 74 people have died and health care systems are bracing for a possible surge following Thanksgiving get-togethers.
Despite some reports that show potential public hesitancy about the vaccine, France is optimistic. “There are always a quarter to a third of the population that wants to know more about a vaccine,” he said. “When they hear a strong message of recommendations from their health care providers they will accept it.”
France expects between 80% and 90% of Coloradans to receive the vaccine. “Fingers crossed,” he said.
He believes the safety data will “look great” and allay any fears about the vaccine, helping more Coloradans be more willing to receive the shots.
The general outlines of COVID-19 vaccine allocation were worked out this summer by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ COVID-19 working group and a panel convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
France hopes the vaccine “works great and COVID disappears,” he said. In a less rosy scenario, France worries the virus evolves, remains dangerous and requires an evolution of the vaccine. “We won’t know which scenario is the truth until we’ve had a year to two years of life with the virus post-vaccination.”
USA TODAY contributed to this report.
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COVID-19 vaccine distribution phases
Phase 1A: Critical workforce — In-patient health care workers, including those at assisted living facilities; outpatient health care workers, including home health workers and outpatient pharmacists
1B: Critical workforce — EMS, firefighters, police, public health personnel, correctional workers
1C: Highest-risk individuals — Residents/patients of assisted living, long-term care and nursing home facilities.
2A: Congregate Housing/essential workers:
- Adults experiencing homelessness
- Incarcerated adults
- Adults living in group homes
- Workers living in congregate settings (ski industry workers, agriculture workers, etc.)
- Students living in college dorms or other congregate housing
- With direct interaction with the public (grocery store workers, teachers, child care, etc.)
- Working in high-density settings (agriculture, meat packing workers, etc.)
- Serving people who live in high-density settings (homeless shelter group home workers, etc).
2B: Higher-risk individuals — Adults 65 or older; adults with obesity, diabetes, chronic lung disease, significant heart disease, chronic kidney disease requiring dialysis, active cancers, and/or immunocompromised status; adults who received placebo during COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial.
3: General public — Adults 18-64 without high-risk conditions.
Source: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.