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News5 Deep Dive: A history of vaccines in Colorado

Posted at 2:13 PM, Nov 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-23 07:48:07-05

COLORADO — As we've received the news over the last couple of weeks when it comes to a coronavirus vaccine, many are displaying a renewed sense of optimism. But what will distribution look like in Colorado?

We're taking a deep dive at the history of vaccines in our state. And what we know right now when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine.

There have been some promising reports recently when it comes to getting a COVID-19 vaccine, based on the manufacturers trial information:

But as public health experts work to combat the virus there are a lot of questions about what happens next.

In the state's vaccine plan, it goes through some of those plans once a vaccine becomes available in the state.
Read Colorado's COVID-19 Vaccination Plan as submitted to the CDC

Colorado COVID Vaccine phased plan
Information from Colorado's vaccine plan submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (October 2020)

"We're anticipating limited supply at first which is why this is so important," explained Colorado Governor Jared Polis when the plan was announced.

The state's plan sent to the Centers For Disease Control last month breaks down like this. With a limitation on the number of doses, first priority will likely go to healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients. People at an increased risk of severe impacts from COVID-19. Think people over 65 years old and those with underlying conditions. And also those who are considered to be in critical populations most at risk for the virus.

But what about students in Colorado's schools?

"School immunizations are done through state laws," explains Stephanie Wasserman, Director of Immunize Colorado. She says all states require some form of vaccinations for students in childcare from K-12 to higher education.

In 1978, Colorado put its first law on the books relating to vaccines for students. Colorado doesn't require flu vaccines for students which is the case for most states in the United States. Wasserman says whether or not Colorado students will be required to get a coronavirus vaccine is a conversation likely years away. Partially because there hasn't been enough testing of the vaccine on children.

"We don't have anywhere near the information we need to make those determinations," says Wasserman.

Here's what is currently required for students in K-12 education in Colorado:

  • Hepatitis B
  • Diptheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTaP)
  • Inactivated poliovirus (IPV)
  • Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)
  • Varicella (Chicken pox)

Now it's important to note, the state does allow for exemptions for either medical or non-medical reasons. But as far as a COVID-19 vaccine goes, the real priority is getting one approved and getting it to those who will need it most.

There are some vaccine trials recruiting children for studies. Pfizer has already moved into another stage with kids as young as 12.

RELATED: Public mistrust could be another hurdle for health officials distributing COVID vaccine | News5 Coronavirus Coverage

Immunization rates in Colorado's school-age children

However, we know that immunization rates for school kids in Colorado have been consistently low compared to other states for years. The CDC reported in 2019 Colorado is 49th in the nation when it comes to vaccinating kindergartners.

Part of the reason is more parents are exercising their state right to exempt children due to personal, medical or religious reasons. Colorado currently follows national guidelines that include the objective of having 95% of all kindergartners fully immunized by 2020, but right now the state falls well short.

In June, the Colorado General Assembly passed Senate Bill 163 overhauling the immunizations required for school entry. The bill plans to achieve higher immunization by streamlining vaccination and exemption rules and making it easier to track statistics of who is and is not vaccinated.

Opponents of the bill, many of whom oppose vaccinations of most sorts, claim it is a step towards formalized coercion by the state government in forcing children to be vaccinated. “It is the incrementalism,” said Theo Wilson, who is opposed to the bill. “It is the way in which they slowly remove this choice and that choice. And before you know it there is no choice.”

Read more on immunizations in Colorado in our 360 Reporting

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More information on the Colorado Joint COVID-19 Vaccination Planning Team from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The team is made up of representatives from both Governmental and Non-Governmental entities. In addition to the broad representation of the Colorado Joint COVID Vaccination Planning Team (noted below) a far reaching
stakeholder review process is planned.

  • Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment - Individuals from several areas of CDPHE are involved within the vaccine planning efforts. The diverse background of these staff include individuals from the Immunization Branch, the Office of Health Equity, Office of Legal and Regulatory Compliance, Communications, Division of Disease Control and Public Health Response, the Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response, and the Prevention Services Division.
  • Other State Agencies - CDPS including the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM); the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA), the Colorado National Guard (CONG), and the Colorado Governor’s Office.
  • Local Public Health Agencies (LPHA) - Urban and rural LPHAs, including representatives from Boulder, El Paso, Gunnison, Jefferson, Kit Carson, Summit and Tri-County.
  • Hospital Systems - Children’s Hospital of Colorado, Denver Health and Hospital Authority, and the University of Colorado - Anschutz Medical Center
  • Health Education - University of Colorado School of Medicine
  • Societies and Associations - Colorado Hospital Association, Colorado Medical Society, and the Colorado Pharmacists Society
  • Community-Based Organizations - Center for African American Health and the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition.
  • Pharmacy Chains - Walgreens.

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