SOUTHERN COLORADO — New changes to Colorado's vaccine plan has caused some confusion, prompting the state health department to issue new guidance to vaccine providers and local public health agencies.
Last week, Governor Jared Polis moved teachers, K-12 school staff, and child care workers in Phase 1B on the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The new plan places them in the same tier with people 70 and older, health care workers who don't work directly with COVID patients, and first responders.
"With limited doses of vaccine coming to Colorado for the foreseeable future, we have prioritized urgently saving lives and ending the healthcare crisis brought on by the pandemic," said Scott Bookman, Director, Division of Disease Control and Public Health Response. "With this goal in mind and to be as efficient as possible, we would like to divvy up vaccination responsibilities. We are asking all local public health agencies to focus their efforts on prioritizing vaccination for any outstanding highest risk healthcare workers in Phase 1A, as well as moderate risk healthcare workers and first responders in Phase 1B. All other phase 1 providers, such as hospitals, health systems, pharmacies, and safety net clinics, should focus on vaccinating people 70
years of age and older."
Without clear guidance, at least two Denver school districts were planning to vaccinate their staff as early as next week, but with this new guidance, they have to wait.
"There are two ways to approach this, you wait until everything is perfect, till web portals are in place and systems in place and you don't announce anything till then. The other way is what I think is the path that makes sense to save lives. But it's chaotic because you're building a car while you're driving it," said Gov. Jared Polis.
Essential workers, including teachers, must wait to get vaccinated until people 70 and older receive their shots. The state says they are working toward being able to announce by the end of this week ways for members of the general public who are 70 years old and up statewide to schedule appointments with hospitals and health systems.
The state also directed local public health agencies to plan on vaccine administration for teachers and other frontline workers after February 28.
Some have raised concerns on why some school staff such as school nurses have received the vaccine already.
"School nurses are very much like other nurses in hospital covid wards and hospital rooms and are eligible under Phase 1A," said Polis.
When it comes to vaccine distribution, the Colorado Department of Education says it will depend on each district.
"Whether teachers can deny it or don't have to have it will be an employment issue, the state doesn't have a bearing on that," said Jeremy Meyer, Director of Communications for Colorado Department of Education.
Falcon School District 49, Pueblo School Districts 60 and 70 all says they'll make the vaccine optional for their staff. Right now, they're waiting for health officials to finish with older Coloradans so they can begin distribution.
The state health department says they'll be finishing up with the majority of those in Phase 1A by the end of next week based on current vaccine supply and anticipate completing vaccinations for adults 70 and older late next month. If additional vaccines are approved and received, officials may be able to accelerate those timelines.