Gov. Jared Polis Friday blasted the Trump administration for failing to provide more than 200,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine it had promised the state it would deliver next week.
The vaccine was to be a one-time windfall from a federal government reserve to supplement the state’s regular allotment of 79,000 doses for the week. Polis said federal officials promised the extra supply in a phone call a few days ago. On Friday morning, word came that the reserve doesn’t actually exist.
“It would have been 200,000 to 250,000 (doses), Polis told Colorado Matters. “We were ready to deploy it next week in Colorado. Now, it's confirmed that it doesn't exist despite what the president said. So we're just getting the 79,000 doses next week.”
COVID Vaccines In Colorado: Your Always Up-To-Date Guide To Finding The Info You Need
The Trump administration, he said, lied.
“I mean we should've known not to believe a word that comes out of his lips,” Polis said. “But when he lies about things like this, it costs lives.”
The loss of the anticipated extra doses will have no immediate impact on Colorado’s distribution. While governors in some other states complained that they expanded eligibility for the vaccine based on the expectation of additional doses, Polis expanded availability to everyone 70 and older long before he learned there might be a vaccine windfall. He said earlier this week he would expand further to people 65 and older after supplies stabilized.
At a press conference later in the day, Polis updated the state’s progress in administering the vaccines it does have. So far 270,800 doses have been administered, according to the state’s vaccine data dashboard, of 300,100 doses Polis said the state has received. Most or all of the remaining doses will be administered by Sunday, Polis said.
The state anticipated that frontline health care workers in Phase 1A would be nearly completed with their first of two doses by today. Polis said that goal has been all but met and that people in assisted and skilled nursing living facilities will have received their first dose by Jan. 31. Those facilities are getting their vaccine through a federal program using pharmacies that is running behind schedule.
Almost 47,000 Coloradans have received both doses of a vaccine and should be protected from the virus.
Nearly 40,000 people age 70 and older have been vaccinated since they were added to a higher priority level two weeks ago. Many seniors are still struggling to make appointments, but Polis said he’s confident the more than 500,000 seniors in the state will have their first dose by the end of February.
More news about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Colorado:
Some of those appointment issues have to do with public confusion over where to sign up. Denver resident Jeanne Archer wrote CPR News about her experience in trying to help a 90-year-old neighbor.
“Trying to figure out who has vaccines and where to get them is a nightmare," Archer wrote. She said she spent “literally hours on hold” being directed to websites whose information was out of date or inaccurate. “This should not be this complicated,” she wrote.
Polis said the state’s COVID-19 website contains links to major health care providers that are providing the vaccine.
“You simply go to the covid19.colorado.gov site, click on, ‘Vaccination," and you sign up,” You can sign up with UC Health, or Centura, or Kaiser. You don't even have to be a member of those … simply sign up with one of the providers and you'll be called in a random fashion.”
He did acknowledge it could be several weeks before appointments are available for everyone 70 or older to get the shots.
President-elect Joe Biden has promised he’ll speed the process up after he takes office next week. On Thursday, he repeated his goal to administer 100 million shots in his first 100 days, although advisers say that will likely get off to a slow start.
But bold declarations don’t create more vaccine, and if vaccine supplies keep coming at their current rate that goal won’t be met, Polis said.
“We are not receiving anywhere near enough vaccine nor is there any state that distributed pro rata to achieve 100 million doses in 100 days.” He said Biden’s team may have more knowledge of the supply chain of the two vaccines now being distributed, Moderna and Pfizer. A third vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, is now in Phase 3 testing and could be approved by the FDA soon.
On the Trump administration’s decision to move U.S. Space Command headquarters out of Colorado Springs:
“I don't think the epitaph has been written yet. We're certainly going to encourage, and already have, the incoming administration to really look at this on the merit. The truth is, they cost taxpayers billions of dollars to move it. It hurts the mission of military readiness to move it. And if in fact it was done for political reasons, as has been reported, we hope that it can be done according to the recommendation of the military to keep it here in Colorado.”
On his legislative priorities:
The legislature met for three days this week and is scheduled to return full-time on Feb. 16.
"It's about building back stronger and how we can use the one-time funds we have, stimulus funds, to create jobs today and also build that legacy for our future. … We're very open to suggestions from Republicans to Democrats in the legislature but essentially for it to be a qualifying project, it would need to be able to be invested one time, spent down ideally in 12 months, longest would be 18 months, not an ongoing expense.
So roads, bridges, parks, retraining of workers, those are the kinds of things that are one-time investments that pay dividends for years and help put people to work today."
On the possibility of violence leading up to the inauguration:
An FBI memo this week warned of possible ‘armed protests’ in Washington D.C. and the 50 state capitals.
"We work closely with Denver Police Department (which has the) general area of jurisdiction around the state Capitol. They're in conversations and we're part of it with our state troopers, with Aurora, with other nearby jurisdictions to make sure we have the law enforcement resources we need to keep the peace and ensure a peaceful transition of power in Washington.
… Obviously, the legislature will be out and (the Capitol) will be protected. And we have the law enforcement resources to do that. We also sent over 200 Colorado National Guardsmen to Washington D.C. to help protect our nation's capital and ensure a peaceful transition."
Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters from CPR News and KRCC. I'm Ryan Warner. The economy and vaccine distribution would get a shot in the arm under a plan President-elect Joe Biden laid out Thursday. Once in office, he'll ask Congress for a $1.9 trillion economic package, including stimulus checks and housing support. And Biden plans to reassert the federal government's role in getting Americans immunized.
President-Elect Joe Joe Biden: The vaccine roll out in the United States has been a dismal failure thus far. We'll have to move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated, to create more places for them to get vaccinated, to mobilize more medical teams to get shots in people's arms, to increase vaccine supply and to get it out the door as fast as possible.
Ryan Warner: Biden's plan is to get 100 million Americans vaccinated in his first 100 days, enabling among other things a quick return for students to the classroom. These of course are all issues that deeply affect Coloradans, and that we're going to discuss with Governor Jared Polis, who's on the line for our regular interview. And welcome back to the program, governor.
Gov. Jared Polis: Ryan, it feels like there's so much we could be talking about. We could talk for six hours. I mean what the heck is not going on right now? Everything's happening.
RW: That's exactly right, and we'll try to cover a lot of ground today. I do want to ask if you think the dismal failure that Biden spoke of extends to Colorado's vaccine roll out.
JP: Well we are actually one of the top states in getting the vaccine into arms. I think what they're referring to is the quantity of vaccine. We are not receiving anywhere near enough vaccine nor is any state that distributed pro rata, to achieve 100 million doses in 100 days. I just talked to General (Gustave) Perna (chief of the federal distribution program Operation Warp Speed) this morning. Next week, we'll get about 79,000 doses. It's week- to- week. We hope those supplies increase significantly. We'll certainly get every dose to protect somebody who's 70 and up. But we've got to pick up the pace here.
RW: I just saw that Oregon's governor, Kate Brown, tweeted that she learned this morning there will be no vaccine doses coming in the next week from the national stockpile. Apparently because there is no federal reserve of vaccine. Is that something Colorado was relying on, anticipating?
JP: Yeah, we were lied to like so many times. It was a shock this morning. When I talked to General Perna I was informed, it's public in the Washington Post and other places, there was no reserve. So what President Trump said about releasing it was false. Look, I mean we should've known not to believe a word that comes out of his lips. But when he lies about things like this, it costs lives.
RW: Now to be clear, this was additional vaccine, bonus vaccine …
JP: This was going to be three weeks they were holding back. That was the second dose. It would have been 200,000 to 250,000. We were ready to deploy it next week in Colorado. Now, it's confirmed that it doesn't exist despite what the president said. So we're just getting the 79,000 doses next week.
RW: I note that today was the deadline you had hoped to inoculate all the folks in 1A, so frontline healthcare workers. Will this effect meeting that deadline? Is the state going to meet the deadline?
JP: No, we're largely there. We've been doing folks that are 70 and up now for close to two weeks. Obviously, also folks that are medical and first responders. But now, essentially all of our supply going forward goes to folks aged 70 and up to protect our most vulnerable.
RW: Okay. So the lack of doses in the national stockpile will affect older Coloradans moving forward. Has the Biden administration been in touch with you to see what Colorado most needs? And if not, what would you tell them?
JP: Yeah. I mean look, as of, what, two or three days ago, when I talked to the Biden transition folks on COVID, they thought there was a national stockpile as well. So the Trump administration had been telling them that there was one. The governors all thought there was one. And on a White House call three days ago, they said there was a national reserve that they would be releasing and not holding back those doses. So every governor who was competent made plans to distribute hundreds of thousands of doses next week. Apparently, those vaccinations simply don't exist and they're going to continue with the trickle that they've been coming.
RW: You talked about Colorado's vaccine rollout being relatively good compared to other states. I do want to reflect the frustration that we're hearing from Jeanne Archer, for instance, of Denver. She says, "Trying to figure out who has vaccines and where to get them is a nightmare." Archer is trying to help her 90-year-old neighbor and spent, "literally hours on hold," being directed to websites whose information is out of date or inaccurate. She said, "This should not be this complicated." Governor, what if you don't have a nice neighbor to help you navigate things or time to spend on the phone like that?
JP: Yeah. There's no reason to be on the phone or to do that. You simply go to the covid19.colorado.gov site, click on, "Vaccination," and you sign up. You can sign up with UC Health, or Centura, or Kaiser. You don't even have to be a member of those. And then here's the frustrating part. You might not be called the next day. It might be a week, it might be two weeks if you're 70 and up. But every day, they're using every dose that they have. So there's no need to wait on hold, simply sign up with one of the providers and you'll be called in a random fashion. And in the meantime, you might have a chance to go earlier if there's one in your neighborhood. We've done vaccinations at Black churches in Denver, in the San Luis Valley and Center and San Luis where everybody in town who's 70 and up can come by and get vaccinated. So if you happen upon one of those, go for it. But in the meantime, sign up with one of the providers and you'll be up in the next few weeks.
RW: So I think it's really important what you said there, you do not have to be, for instance, a Kaiser or a Centura member. You don't have to necessarily be in those systems to sign up for their vaccines. Is that what I heard you say?
JP: Absolutely. Absolutely. They are randomizing their allotment for people that are in and out of their system that sign up. They have databases of people that are 70 and up who've been to Centura or UC Health, and they're easy to fill out demand with those. But anybody who signs up from the general public is on the same footing for the randomization as somebody who's a customer there. There's no charge, it's free. If anybody tries to charge you out of pocket, it's a scam. Don't do it. These are free for everybody, paid for by the federal government.
RW: Governor Jared Polis joins us for our regular conversation. Governor, we spoke recently with a doctor from Denver Health who helped advise the state on its vaccine roll out. I asked Dr. Anuj Mehta if he could picture mass vaccination drive-throughs, like the drive up testing centers we've seen. And this is something, by the way, the president-elect envisions. Dr. Mehta, though, cautions that such a campaign would require wifi to log people's health information. And then you have to have generous parking because people have to be monitored for a few minutes for allergic reactions. Can you overcome those difficulties and have these sorts of things statewide?
JP: Well right now, look, there's a few states that are doing them. It seems like it's mostly for show because we don't have the quantity to do it. If we're getting 75,000 vaccines in the whole state, that is a very easy number to get out through pharmacies and hospitals and community health clinics. If we had 200- or 300,000, like we thought we were going to get when we were told by the president that there was a reserve, sure. You can do a larger scale drive-through site. So it all depends on quantity. We have plans to do it. UC Health is talking to Denver … there's other plans in other areas of the state. But it doesn't make any sense to do it if we don't have the vaccine to actually use there.
RW: I mean it's against that backdrop I want to ask you about the president-elect. I don't know if it's a promise, but it's certainly a goal to get 100 million shots in arms in his first 100 days. Given all of the conditions that you've explained there, is he setting himself and the American people up for failure?
JP: Well look, that gets you into, what, April. So they would hopefully have more visibility in the supply chain than I do, meaning conversations with the CEOs at Pfizer, at Moderna. There's a third one that we hope the FDA approves soon, Johnson & Johnson. We hope that those quantities come on board. So we'd be thrilled. The administration putting it into the arm to protect somebody who is 70 and up, 60 and up, a teacher, a grocery store worker. When we get into all those numbers, 100 million, that's a third of our population will have completed most of those groups. But yeah, we just need the vaccines in the state. We'll get them in the arm of somebody to protect them within a week.
RW: Johnson & Johnson, the third vaccine you are awaiting. Can you say anything more about that?
JP: I sure can. I can tell you that it's a one-dose vaccine. It is currently Phase 3 being evaluated. We hope to have an emergency use within the next several weeks. I'm optimistic about that. We don't yet know the quantity. But the quantity of Moderna and Pfizer is in that 30- to 40,000 a week range. We would be hopeful that Johnson & Johnson would be additive to that in that same range, potentially higher, because it's not a two-dose regime. So remember those other ones, you effectively have the number of people that you can give them to because each person requires two 21 to 28 days apart. Johnson & Johnson is one and done.
RW: This week, Denver County, which of course is Colorado's most populous, learned that it could participate in the 5-Star Program, which means that businesses can open up to more people if they follow strict guidelines in Denver. Meanwhile, a new COVID-19 variant has been detected in Colorado, is likely circulating and signs are that it's more contagious. Would you anticipate tightening restrictions again if there's a dramatic turn, especially with that mutation?
JP: That's why this is such a huge blow today that there was no national reserve that President Trump said he was sending to us. We were expecting 200- to 300,000 vaccines next week. This is a race against the clock to get people vaccinated. In Colorado, from the very first vaccine we got, we put down the rule that anybody we work with, you have 72 hours to get it into somebody's arm or reassign it to somebody else. We don't want these horror stories from other states where they're sitting on the shelves. We want every vaccine used. That's the urgency of this. That's the need, the imperative to reach President-elect Biden's goal of 100 million in 100 days or better. I mean this is a race against the clock and we've got to get it done.
As always, Ryan, we look at hospital capacity. Right now, we're in a far better place than we were in early December. We had 1,600 people hospitalized at our peak. We were right up against having to activate additional care sites. Now, we're at about 800, 810 hospitalizations for COVID. That's still a lot of people that are in the hospital. But currently in Colorado, we are not up against our capacity.
RW: And that is what you monitor to see what sorts of restrictions need to be on communities. Given the news of the stockpile, do you have any doubts about Denver moving forward with its 5-Star Program?
JP: Well what this basically does, and we've had communities like Mesa County, they invented 5-Star, it basically rewards businesses that take the right health precautions so they can effectively be open if they go above and beyond, if they have the ventilation, if they enforce the mask wearing. I mean this is a time when the virus is extremely prevalent across our entire country. I think we've had the most deaths in the last week in the United States than in the entire time that we've had the pandemic. We're of course doing a little bit better here in Colorado. But roughly one in 112 Coloradans are currently contagious with the virus. So it could be somebody who doesn't know it. It could be somebody at the grocery store, it could be somebody that you encounter. That's why we need to avoid socializing with people outside of our home, wear a mask around others and keep a distance.
RW: Before we take a break, governor, one more question, because we are going to continue, I know, to hear from Coloradans who want the vaccine and are having trouble finding where to get it. I want to be crystal clear. You said that on the state's COVID-19 website, that there is a place to sign up or it just points you to other providers? Get brass tacks for a moment.
JP: No, no, because where you sign up depends on where you live. So you go to the COVID website, covid19.colorado.gov, click on, "Vaccine," and it has the correct link for UC Health, for Kaiser, for Centura, for SEL, for community health clinics, for some counties that have stood up their own. So there's probably 15 or 12 links on there. You want to click on the one that's convenient to you, and you want to… Boulder Community Health's on there, Vail Health. So they're on there. As we get more, we put them up. Pretty good geographic spread now. We augment that with, as I said, regional clinics. And if there's one that you're fortunate to come across, go for it in your church or in your neighborhood. But get on one of those lists. Folks that are 70 up, you may get the email tomorrow, you may get it in two weeks, but you will get it. And everybody who wants it, who's 70 and up, will have the vaccine in Colorado by the end of February. We're estimating at least 70% of 70 and up by the end of February is our goal.
RW: All right. We will pick this conversation up after a short break, Governor. As you said at the beginning of our interview, there's lots to talk about even beyond vaccines. This is Colorado Matters from CPR News.
You're back with Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner. Let's rejoin my regular conversation with Colorado's Democratic governor, Jared Polis. Governor, the FBI sent a memo this week warning of possible armed protests at all 50 state capitals leading up to the inauguration. What, if anything, have you heard specific to Colorado?
JP: Well we work closely with Denver Police Department, general area of jurisdiction around the state capital. They're in conversations and we're part of it with our state troopers, with Aurora, with other nearby jurisdictions to make sure we have the law enforcement resources we need to keep the peace and ensure a peaceful transition of power in Washington.
RW: Any specific threats that you're concerned about in Colorado? Any specific actions that you're taking to seal the capital as it were?
JP: Well yeah. Obviously, the legislature will be out and it will be protected. And we have the law enforcement resources to do that. We also sent over 200 Colorado National Guardsmen to Washington D.C. to help protect our nation's capital and ensure a peaceful transition.
RW: Indeed, you sent them to Washington. Do you think that the National Guard will be needed here for protection?
JP: Well I sure hope it's just a visibility thing. I hope people will see the police department, the police resources there from several different police departments and that will be a deterrent to the kinds of actions that we were all devastated to see occur in our nation's capital last week.
RW: Earlier this hour my colleague, Avery Lill, spoke to U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and asked him about the deep divide in this country, about conspiracy theories that are fueling a lot of the distrust of government right now. Do you see a role for yourself in bridging that chasm?
JP: Well look, my motto is Colorado for all, and that means it's a Colorado for everybody. We're a very diverse state. We respect everybody. We're also a state and a people that respect objective truth. In fact, what the saying is, everybody's entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. So let's have a fact-based discussion. I was proud of our Republicans and Democrats in our state legislature came together around our state's stimulus in the special session that I called. Tax relief for restaurants, we got $375 out the door for people who are unemployed because the federal government couldn't come together and Congress took months to get it done. So look, we're able to work together here, and that's an important Colorado value.
RW: The Colorado legislature opened this week, but because of the COVID pandemic, will adjourn today and return for real business in mid February. What will your legislative priorities be at that point?
JP: Certainly, it's about building back stronger and how we can use the one-time funds we have, stimulus funds, to create jobs today and also build that legacy for our future. And the infrastructure we need to succeed, giving Colorado competitive advantage, helping our small businesses, all of those things are absolutely critical in the next session. And I'm excited to work with Republicans and Democrats to get it done.
RW: Where would you like those investments made?
JP: In our budget that we presented a couple of months ago, we included some suggestions. We're very open to suggestions from Republicans to Democrats in the legislature. But essentially for it to be a qualifying project, it would need to be able to be invested one time spent down ideally in 12 months, longest would be 18 months, not an ongoing expense. So roads, bridges, parks, retraining of workers, those are the kinds of things that are one-time investments that pay dividends for years and help put people to work today. And that with the one-time funds we have in a one to one and a half billion dollar range for the state, we'll look forward to working with the Joint Budget Committee and the legislature to get it done.
RW: You recently reached the halfway points in your term, two years in office. And in a statement, you cited a couple of major accomplishments, a healthcare reinsurance program that has lowered costs on individual plans, full day kindergarten. I want to ask a full day kindergarten if it is sustainable, given the continuing economic impact of the pandemic.
JP: Yeah, absolutely. And not only that, the voters passed the 67% are universal preschool initiatives. So free preschool will be starting in 2023 if there's a lot of young parents out there, expecting parents, that'll help their family budget quite a bit. And I was so proud to see our core initiative after accomplishing kindergarten was preschool, and to see Republican, Democrats in every part of the state, it's hard to get the 67%, Ryan. I was just so proud that Colorado stepped up and said, "We're putting kids first and every kid deserves the ability to go to preschool and kindergarten."
RW: Are either of those programs jeopardized because of the economics of the pandemic?
JP: No, I think they're more important than ever before, especially if we value, which we do, the workforce and building back stronger. It's absolutely critical that preschool and kindergarten in place, along with every other grade level. Our education system, and if you have kids, you see this, it's been a tough year. And catching kids up is going to require extra work of all ages. And for those younger kids, preschool and kindergarten, making sure that they don't fall behind in the first place. There's obviously a smaller kindergarten class this year, because virtual is harder to do for the younger kids. And many parents with summer birthdays of their kids are going to start kindergarten next year. So as that matriculates up, there's going to be a particularly small class and then followed by a particularly large class, just because of decisions parents make.
RW: This remains imperative for you, even, you say, in the economic conditions that Colorado is facing. Yesterday, you released what you're calling a climate roadmap. This specifies how the state will achieve the goals in its 2019 Climate Action Plan. It includes plans for utilities to move from carbon to renewable energy sources really fast. Most have committed to 80% emissions reductions by. 2030 with this roadmap, should people be ready to see their electric bills go up?
JP: Quite the contrary, Ryan. The sooner that we can retire costly coal energy and move to low cost solar and wind, the sooner we'll recognize those savings on our monthly bills. As tri-state likes to call it, and they committed to 80%, they call it the green energy dividend. Lower rates for rate payers, more distributed generation, retiring costly coal plans early. So we're very excited about this transition driven by the simple economics. We now have over 99% of the emissions generated by utility. So effectively, all utilities will be at an 80% reduction in emissions by 2030. Some are going further, Holy Cross, 100% by 2030, Platte River, 90% by 2030. My goal, when I ran for office, of course, 100 %by 2040, it becomes very realistic and realizable when you start seeing folks in the 80 to 90% range in nine years from now, and then you have another 10 years to close that last gap of 20%.
RW: You do not expect then a bump in electric utility rates, even in the short-term?
JP: Well as I said, they're going down. And it's a green energy dividend. I mean tri-state is cutting their rates for their members. They serve many of the co-ops. They also are allowing the co-ops a higher cap for local generation, a lower cost. It's simple economics. You have solar and wind projects, and the two to 3 cent range per megawatt hour. You have coal coming in at three times that cost. So the sooner we can move away from those sunk costs, heavy operational costs, to cleaner, greener, lower cost energy, the sooner we can recognize those savings for Coloradans. It's like the math on a car. If you have a gasoline powered car, you're paying two bucks a gallon and it costs you a lot of money to operate. If you have an electric vehicle, you're getting much lower costs per mile traveled, and that'll help make travel more affordable, especially as with scale, electric vehicles cost even less than internal combustion engines, which we expect to happen in the next few years.
RW: Finally, Colorado will not be the permanent home to U.S. Space Command, whose temporary headquarters are in Colorado Springs. We learned this week that Alabama has been chosen. You have called that decision misguided. Others, including Senator Bennett, have said this is more political than practical. What are the economic effects of that decision by the Trump administration?
JP: Well I don't think the epitaph has been written yet. We're certainly going to encourage and already have the incoming administration to really look at this on the merit. The truth is, they cost taxpayers billions of dollars to move it. It hurts the mission of military readiness to move it. And if in fact it was done for political reasons and has as been reported, we hope that it can be done according to the recommendation of the military to keep it here in Colorado.
RW: Anything else you're lobbying the Biden administration on?
JP: Well I talk to them regularly, especially on the COVID response. We're, as you know, one of the states that's done better in terms of getting the vaccine into arms and had a lower incidence than some of the states that were harder hit. So we're trying to share some of those best practices, making sure that they know the urgent need to get us more vaccine.
RW: I'm curious if you've had any lingering health effects, just because you brought us back to COVID-19, governor, if you are the first gentlemen have had any lingering health effects from COVID, you both tested positive.
JP: No, I feel fine. Thank you, Ryan. I fully recovered. A little under the weather for a week or so. As you know, Marlon had a worsE case, had to spend two days in the hospital. But thank you for asking. But no, I'm feeling fine.
RW: Absolutely. All right, give me a chief goal you have in the next two years of this administration?
JP: End the pandemic, build back stronger than ever before, even more amazing Colorado.
RW: Okay. Thank you so much, governor, for your time. I'm grateful for it.
JP: Hey, thank you, Ryan. Stay safe. People can stay up to date with the pandemic, covid19.colorado.gov. When your age group or work is eligible, that's where you can find providers near you, where you can sign up to be part of a randomized process to get it when it becomes available. All dependent on the vaccine we get in the scheme of things, only 79,000 doses for all of Colorado next week. There's going to be a lot of disappointed people, Ryan, because it's simply not enough vaccines to meet the urgent need that we have.
RW: And at cpr.org, we have frequently asked questions about COVID-19, about the vaccine, that can be a resource to you. Democrat Jared Polis there, Governor of Colorado.