The general public will probably have to wait until summer 2021 to get a coronavirus vaccine, according to a new distribution plan Gov. Jared Polis and top public health officials unveiled on Wednesday.
The plan includes three phases. Hospital workers who treat COVID-19 patients, nursing home residents and their caretakers are first in line for the vaccine, which could arrive as soon as Monday.
Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID-19 incident commander, said the staff and residents at nursing homes have been “disproportionately impacted” by the pandemic.
“Our prioritization process was based on ‘how can we save the most lives, and how can we end this crisis as quickly as possible?’” Bookman said. “We know that early doses will be limited. But over time they will expand, all doses will be free, and every county will have access to this vaccine.”
Next in line are health care workers who do not regularly interact with COVID-patients, along with police officers, correctional facility workers and other first responders.
Bookman said a second phase is scheduled to start in the spring. That’s when the state plans to offer vaccines to residents 65 and older, people with chronic health conditions and essential workers ranging from teachers to grocery store workers.
“These are people who interact directly with the public at work,” Bookman said.
Finally, the plan says the general public will likely have to wait until a third phase in the summer to get their vaccines. He added the state is planning to partner with pharmacies such as Walgreens to make it easier for the public to get.
The timeline unveiled in Colorado this week is less optimistic than one Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, offered last week when he joined Gov. Polis for a news conference.
Fauci predicted then that most Coloradans and the general public would have access to multiple vaccines in April.
The new vaccine plan is also a departure from a draft submitted in October that had put incarcerated adults and other residents in congregate settings, such as college students living in dorms, ahead of the general public.
In the latest version, prisoners will get vaccinated based on their age and whether they have health conditions that put them at a higher risk.
“If you’re at risk, regardless of where you live, you get that (vaccine) when you’re turned up,” Polis said.
Rebecca Wallace, an attorney with the ACLU of Colorado, is criticizing the move to not prioritize vaccines for prisoners. She says prisons have seen the largest outbreaks in the state and called them “nursing homes behind bars.”
The new guidelines come days before the state is expected to receive its first shipment of 46,800 Pfizer doses from the federal government. Colorado is also preparing to order 95,600 doses of Moderna’s vaccine, which it expects to receive by the week of Dec. 21.
Colorado has set up eight regional distribution hubs where vaccines can be stored at ultra-cold temperatures. From there, local public health departments will be responsible for directing where doses go.
Hospitals and local departments have been preparing for the arrival for weeks. Some have even conducted dry runs using mock boxes to try to prevent hiccups once the real vials arrive.
Roberta Smith, Routt County’s public health director, said she’s been running through tabletop planning exercises with local health care providers. The county only has one hospital, which will be the primary vaccination site for the next several weeks.
“The situation we’re thinking of where we’ll have mass vaccinations will probably be later in the winter time or early spring,” Smith said. “But it’s never too early to start thinking about that and having systems in place for delivery.”
In Larimer County, the public health department has been meeting almost daily with local hospital representatives over Zoom to determine where the greatest need lies.
“We’re focusing on the most high risk inpatient health care providers on the COVID-19 unit,” said Tom Gonzalez, Larimer’s public health director. “Then we can slowly back off (to other populations).”
Many hospitals are still in the dark on the exact number of doses they’ll get out of the state’s first shipment.
Banner Health has already started notifying critical care staff at facilities in Greeley, Loveland and Fort Collins if they’re eligible to receive a vaccine, with the hope to start scheduling vaccinations next week.
Based on current supply projections, the hospital system estimates it can get its entire Northern Colorado team vaccinated by the end of January, said Dr. Joe Gregory, Banner’s lead physician executive overseeing staff vaccination efforts.
Banner workers will not be required to get vaccinated, Gregory said. But he guesses many will want to.
“If we can develop immunity in our team members, we can start to see fewer team members get sick and not be available to take care of patients,” he said. “This might be the beginning of the end and we can finally get this thing under control.”
Here’s a breakdown of Colorado’s new prioritization list:
Phase 1A - winter
Highest-risk health care workers and individuals:
- People who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
- Long-term care facility staff and residents.
Phase 1B - winter
Moderate-risk health care workers and responders:
- Health care workers with less direct contact with COVID-19 patients.
- Workers in home health/hospice and dental settings.
- EMS, firefighters, police, correctional workers, dispatchers, funeral services, other first responders, and COVID-19 response personnel.
Phase 2 - spring
Higher-risk individuals and essential workers:
- People age 65 or older.
- People of any age with obesity, diabetes, chronic lung disease, significant heart disease, chronic kidney disease, cancer, or are immunocompromised.
- People who interact directly with the public at work, such as grocery store workers and school and child care staff.
- People who work in high density settings like farms and meat-packing plants.
- Workers serving people that live in high-density settings.
- Health care workers not included in Phase 1.
- Adults who received a placebo during a COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial.
Phase 3 - summer
- Anyone age 18-64 without high risk conditions.