Polis Defends Vaccine Rollout, Announces Coronavirus Testing Program For Colorado Schools

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Otero County Health Department’s mass COVID-19 vaccination drive-through clinic for this 70 and older at the Arkansas Valley Fairgrounds in Rocky Ford on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

Gov. Jared Polis defended his administration's rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine amid complaints that it has created confusion for Coloradans and announced a new initiative for schools that he said would help keep students back in the classroom through the winter and spring.

Doctors, pharmacies and hospital systems have been fielding questions from anxious citizens about when they might be eligible for the vaccine.

Part of the confusion stems from the fact that some Coloradans have already been vaccinated even though frontline health care workers and other top priority groups haven't.

Who gets a vaccine in Colorado and who doesn’t has depended in part on where people live, the number of doses certain areas have received and what health system patients are affiliated with.

Polis indicated in a press conference Wednesday that some chaos is inevitable in order to make sure people are vaccinated and no doses go to waste.

“The benefits of going as quickly as possible to get it into the arms of folks far outweighs delaying until everything is lined up,” Polis said. 

Another source of confusion was which groups fell into what phases of the vaccine distribution. Last week, the governor added to the list of groups in Phase 1 of the distribution, moving those people 70 years and older up on the list as well as essential workers, including teachers.

Yesterday, the governor clarified that teachers and other essential workers would have to wait until the top tier groups — frontline health care workers and nursing home staff and residents — and the estimated 562,000 Coloradans aged 70 and older were vaccinated.

The governor said he planned to aggregate information for people to call about testing, noting that several health systems had opened up online schedules for older Coloradans to sign up for the vaccine. 

“They are contacting the people that are in their database 70 and up first, but they will also be taking sign-ups from the general public,” Polis said.

The governor said more health systems and clinics will be offering the vaccine to older Coloradans in the coming weeks.

Polis also announced a new program where teachers and students will be able to access COVID-19 tests for home use. He said public and private schools will be able to opt into the program which is being rolled out in three states, including Colorado.

He said the tests — called BinaxNOW — come in little packages and are simple and accurate. The goal is to catch infections before they get into schools, so students or teachers who contract COVID-19 can stay home and prevent outbreaks.

“School districts or private schools will order the tests, then ship them directly to the homes of students and staff,” Polis said. 

They can also be shipped to schools and administered there. Polis said the tests are one part of a larger strategy to keep classrooms open, that includes contact tracing and mask-wearing.  

There have been some concerns about the accuracy of the BinaxNOW tests, including a recent study in the medical journal Lancet that questioned whether they might miss many more infections than the manufacturers suggest. But even with the understanding that they sacrifice speed for perfect accuracy, they are likely to at least catch a large number of infections at an early stage.