All Coloradans 16-plus become eligible for COVID-19 vaccine Friday

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Colorado will open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and older Friday, Gov. Jared Polis announced in a news conference Monday.

Vaccinations for the general public were not expected to be opened until the middle of April, ahead of a goal laid out by President Joe Biden to have states open up eligibility to everyone by the start of May. But Polis said the strong supply of vaccines coming to Colorado — the state got over 400,000 doses this week alone — has allowed it to widen eligibility sooner.

“It means we are now reaching this wide level of vaccine distribution,” Polis said. “We have our large vaccination sites up and going, we’re ready for many more, and we are expecting we will get many more vaccines.”

Polis said over the next six to eight weeks, every Coloradan who wants the vaccine will have had the opportunity to get their first dose.

Brigadier General Scott Sherman with the Colorado National Guard, who is in charge of vaccine distribution, said they are expecting to receive more than 370,000 doses next week and more than 390,000 doses the week after. These figures are an estimate, will likely be higher and do not include any allotment of vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

Sherman said Johnson & Johnson has fixed the supply issues it had been experiencing shortly after the vaccine started being used in Colorado, and the state expects to receive more of the one-dose shot in the coming weeks. The state got 32,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson this week but didn’t know how much to expect over the next two weeks.

Colorado just opened up eligibility for those in the 1B.4 group — those 50 and older and many different essential workers, which constituted about 2.5 million people. Polis recognized not everyone in earlier eligibility groups has been vaccinated yet, and he encouraged providers to prioritize those who are of higher risk.

“That is where we need to be,” said Matt Johnson, pharmacist and owner of Lyon’s Corner Drug and Soda Fountain in Steamboat Springs. “That way we are not making anyone play health care cop.”

Johnson said the pharmacy probably gets one call from someone who isn’t eligible for every two calls of people who were eligible. Before the most recent group opened, Johnson said it started to become challenging to fill vaccine appointments, because there were not enough eligible people interested. Having to screen people before setting up an appointment also adds to the time it takes to organize a clinic.

“As you get to the bottom of the pack, you are spending just as much resources to find those people, and you are giving less shots,” Johnson said. “If they call me at the store, I think that indicates someone is willing, so we will just sign them up.”

On Tuesday, Johnson said he expects to learn whether he will get any vaccine this week, which is still an unknown despite strong numbers being delivered to the state. As for Polis’ goal of allowing everyone interested to have a vaccine by the end of May, Johnson said it is “very realistic.”

Only the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for use for 16- and 17-year-olds, and none of the available vaccines has been approved for children younger.

There are currently vaccine trials underway to assess its efficacy in younger children, and Polis said he hoped trials would be finished soon, which would allow students to be vaccinated before schools start up again in the fall.

The state now has five community vaccination sites with a sixth planned to open in Denver later this week. Polis said these sites are needed, because they are running out of places to distribute the vaccine in the normal health care system.

The closest community vaccination clinic to Steamboat Springs would be either at the Convention Center in Grand Junction or at the Ranch Events Complex in Loveland — each over a three-hour drive away. When vaccines are confirmed to be available for these sites, appointments are opened and can be made online.

The state also is conducting equity clinics targeting underserved communities that may have more barriers to getting the vaccine, like reliable transportation. Last week, Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said the county would be getting one of these clinics sometime in April.

The local clinic will partner with Integrated Community to reach immigrants and non-English speakers in Northwest Colorado.

“Please be careful,” Polis said, while raising a Colorado-themed mask in his hand. “We are not through this. There are enough people who haven’t been vaccinated and haven’t had it where there absolutely could be another increase.”

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