BY FREDA MIKLIN GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
On December 30, Rachel Herlihy, M.D. and CDPHE state epidemiologist, Eric France, M.D., CDPHE chief medical officer presented updated information about how the COVID-19 vaccines are being delivered and the new variant of the virus first discovered in the U.S. in Colorado.
A new priority chart for delivering the vaccine was presented. Still divided into three phases—winter, spring, and summer—the most significant adjustment was to who is covered in phase 1B. The doctors also clarified that there is likely to be overlap between phases 1A, which is comprised of health care personnel who treat COVID-19 patients and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and phase 1B. The revised list of those eligible to get the vaccine in phase 1B includes Coloradans aged 70+, other health care personnel including home health care and hospice workers, EMS, pharmacy and dental personnel, police and firefighters, correctional and funeral service workers, followed by frontline workers in education, food and agriculture, manufacturing, postal and public transit workers, grocery store personnel, and those who work in public health and human services.
Phase two is focused on the rest of the seniors aged 60-69 and also includes those under age 60 with pre-existing health conditions that make getting the virus more dangerous. The second phase is expected to be done in the spring, with everyone else not previously vaccinated planned to be immunized by summer.
In addressing the change to moving those age 70+ to the first phase, Governor Polis said that “78% of fatalities in Colorado are of people 70 and up. That’s why we didn’t adopt CDC guidance of 75 and up,” adding, “We are requesting today that CMS (the federal agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid programs) temporarily pause allowing visitors at nursing homes so we can focus on getting all these people vaccinated…. We want to vaccinate that population as soon as possible. As soon as they have immunity, we look forward to stopping that.”
He also wanted all Coloradans to be aware that, “The vaccine is free and there is no co-pay. If anyone is trying to charge you, that is not a real vaccine.”
In response to a question fromThe Villagerabout how those who are 70+ can access the vaccine, the Colorado State Emergency Operations Center told us, “We currently expect that we will get through the majority of Phase 1A healthcare workers by January 15 and as we get close to that date, we will be able to provide more information for Coloradans on next steps. The state is actively working with local public health agencies to determine which additional providers will vaccinate members of the 1A and 1B groups, and we are continually onboarding new providers. Several counties are planning to hold mass vaccination clinics for members of their communities. In the coming days and as more information becomes finalized, we will publish additional locations for vaccine distribution on the state website. For more information on the vaccine distribution process, you may call COHELP at 303-389-1687 or 877-462-2911, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. or visit our Vaccine for Coloradans website.
Emily Travanty, Ph.D., CDPHE scientific director, answered questions about the new variant of the COVID-19 virus, first found in the United States in a Colorado National Guard (CNG) member on December 24. She said another CNG member was suspected of having the new variant, but it had not yet been confirmed.
Dr. Travanty explained that CDPHE scientists at the state laboratory, in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), made the finding using genome sequencing on positive coronavirus tests that showed a signature for the new variant. Both CNG members had been helping staff at the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in the town of Simla in Elbert County, 48 miles northeast of Colorado Springs. They had only been there one day when they were discovered to have contracted the virus, hence it is quite possible that one or both of them contracted it before arriving in Simla. Additionally, all 26 residents of Good Samaritan were positive for COVID-19 when the CNG members arrived, but none appeared to have the new variant of the virus, according to Dr. Travanty. Dr. Herlihy said the CNG member who was confirmed positive was quarantining for ten days at home in Arapahoe County and the suspected positive CNG member was quarantining in a hotel in Lincoln County. She declined to identify the gender of either impacted CNG member to protect their privacy. Dr. France confirmed previous reports that the new variant of the virus was more contagious but not more dangerous than the original in the severity of the illness or the potential to be lethal. He also confirmed that, at this time, the medical community believes that the current vaccines on the market will be as effective against this version of the virus as they are against the original version.