SOUTHERN COLORADO — On Friday, Governor Jared Polis announced educators, child care providers, and people between the ages of 65 and 69, are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine starting February 8.
News5 spoke with Dr. Eric France, the chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), to learn more about how this decision was made. Dr. France said after assessing current vaccination progress, it was time to start thinking about which groups of people ought to be next. "We just feel like it's time to give the kids a break. And it's time to elevate the importance of family and children, and make them a priority area. It's as much an economic and social and community prioritization, as it is health," said Dr. France.
Dr. France said Colorado is still actively vaccinating people who are 70 or older. "We're probably a third of the way through. We expect to be at 70% of this group by the end of February," said Dr. France.
He said naturally, people ages 65-69 were put in the next priority group. Governor Polis asked this group refrain from calling and trying to get into the queue before February 8. "As we go forward, there'll be a time where maybe the numbers start to decline among 70 year olds who are accepting the vaccine. And our estimate is that by mid-February, we'll have enough vaccines to now offer to the 65-69 year olds," said Dr. France.
When asked about achieving herd immunity as a result of the vaccine, Dr. France explained we will likely see a decrease in the number of deaths and hospitalizations among people 70 and older, but the virus may still spread. "It's going to take us a number of months before we have enough people vaccinated, that vaccination itself starts to reduce the spread. Focus instead on what you know controls this virus," said Dr. France, referring to social distancing, wearing a mask, and good hygiene, among other precautions taken since the start of the pandemic.
"They will have different methods by which they will get signed up for an appointment. If you're 65-69, you'll use the same methods that we currently have in place, contacting the health systems or local public health agencies to identify where and when you can be vaccinated. For the educators, they'll be informed and signed up through their own employers, their school districts, and so more will be coming from school districts about how best to do that."
For educators, Dr. France said he knows there are some school districts that have already been aligning themselves with certain health systems. Dr. France said CDPHE will be gathering advice from school districts, public health agencies, and other education experts regarding the vaccination plans. He believes they will also listen to teacher's unions, to get their ideas on how to approach this. "I absolutely will get vaccinated, and I am super excited that vaccines and the vaccine process can start a month earlier," said Angela Bird, a French and science teacher at Mesa Ridge High School.
Bird is also the president of the Widefield Education Association. She said this school year has obviously been more challenging than ever. "The vaccine gives me a certain peace of mind that I would potentially not be a super spreader," said Bird.
However, Bird said there are still more questions than answers regarding the new vaccination distribution plan. "Today, after the announcement, I had so many people ask me, 'Well, how do I get signed up? How do I know? Who do I contact?' And unfortunately, right now, my answer to them was, I don't know... We can speculate, and we can guess, but the reality is nobody really has these answers yet. Nobody really knows yet, and like with almost everything with COVID, it could all change tomorrow," said Bird.
Taira Mauck is a teacher at Pinello Elementary School. She's been working in the field for around 25 years, and said the pandemic has made it difficult for students to receive a quality education. Mauck said she will not be opting to get vaccinated. "I don't need the vaccine to teach. I don't need the vaccine to be in society. I have my own immune system, and I trust my own immune system. I trust the science, but I don't believe that there's enough science behind this vaccine. I feel like we've been held captive by a virus for almost a year... I'm not an anti-vaxxer in any way, shape, or form. My kids have had their vaccines. That's not anything that I'm saying. I just don't feel like this vaccine is right. I feel like there are way too many questions," said Mauck.
Mauck said she is happy for the teachers who want to get the vaccine, but she wants to make sure that personal decision does not affect the professional setting. "As long as they have a plan that's going to be effective for the people who do want it, and there are no consequences one way or another, then this is going to be a plan that works. But, it really is going to have to be about that personal choice. And we need to value the people, and not just value the vaccine," said Mauck.
In mid-January, Governor Polis expressed concern over the number of vaccines being sent to Colorado from the federal government. "We're looking for federal partners to help us with the production of doses, and we're really limited to whatever they give us," said Dr. France.
I’m shocked we were lied to and there is no national reserve.Federal announcements that 2nd dose being held in reserve was going to be released led us to expect 210,000 doses next week,other Govs made similar https://t.co/ETVIqM0clH we find out we’ll only get 79,000 next week.— Jared Polis (@jaredpolis) January 15, 2021
News5 asked how more groups are eligible for the vaccine, when there is a concern about not having enough doses transported to Colorado. Dr. France said CDPHE feels there is a reliable supply of vaccines coming over the next four to five weeks. "We thought there was more stored vaccine at the federal level that was going to be released, and we learned that indeed there wasn't anything on the shelf. In the mean time, we're working hard to expand the number of doses that we can get in our state. We get about 80,000-90,000 doses a week, and are using more than 90% of those every week," explained Dr. France.
CLICK HERE to see the most current figures regarding coronavirus vaccinations in Colorado from CDPHE.
Dr. France mentioned the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that is awaiting emergency use approval, and he hopes by the end of March, there will be a much greater vaccine supply because of it. He says the vaccination process in Colorado will last into the summer months at least.
Many people have reported confusion when it comes to getting in line for the vaccine. Dr. France said the number of staff working the Colorado Vaccine Information Hotline is doubling, to meet the high demand of questions. He asked people have patience throughout the vaccination process.