Gov. Jared Polis now expects to open COVID-19 vaccinations to all Coloradans 16 and older by the middle of April and that he expects everyone that age who wants a vaccine to be fully protected by the end of June.
“We expect to more or less have a normal summer,” said the governor, adding that he’d already signed up his kids for summer camp with the expectation that camps and other summer activities will move forward.
If Polis sticks to his mid-April timetable for widespread eligibility, it would mean Colorado would be a couple of weeks ahead of the timeline advanced by President Joe Biden, who said Thursday that all Americans who wanted a vaccine would be eligible by May 1.
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Biden’s decision to place a marker on May 1 in a speech to the nation Thursday night sparked Polis’s penchant for competition. Throughout the pandemic, he has regularly remarked that he wants Colorado to have the best testing, and the fewest cases, and the fastest vaccine delivery in the nation. And while none of those things have come to pass, he reacted to Biden’s announcement as though it was a direct challenge to Coloradans.
“Last night, President Biden directed that all Americans should be able to receive the vaccine by May 1,” Polis said. “In Colorado, we always aim to do better. We're very competitive and we do expect, and we're able to announce today that we expect we will be there ... by mid-April.”
Polis also said the state had inched up the timetable for those eligible for the next phase, 1b.4, to March 19. That phase will include people 50 and older, restaurant workers, those with a pre-existing medical condition and higher education faculty. The state had originally planned to begin eligibility for those groups on March 21. Polis said the state would release more information next week about how the groups, which represent about half of the state’s population, can sign up.
The good news is tempered by the fact Coloradans of color and those in marginalized communities are not being vaccinated at anywhere near the same rate as their white, more privileged counterparts.
According to the latest vaccination data, whites make up about 68 percent of Colorado’s population, but about 74 percent of those who’ve received a vaccine. Black Coloradans make up about 4 percent of the state’s population but a little over 2 percent of those vaccinated. By far the largest discrepancy is vaccinations given to Latinos who comprise about 22 percent of Colorado's population but only 5 percent of those vaccinated.
The state has been holding clinics in areas with large Black and Latino populations and in marginalized communities but so far, it hasn’t moved the numbers.
As the number of those eligible increases later this month and more vaccines arrive in Colorado, the state will begin to open six large vaccination sites in Pueblo, Mesa, El Paso, Larimer, Adams and Denver counties. The governor said the current system where hospitals and pharmacies administer vaccines has just about reached capacity.
“They are essentially administering about as many as they can,” Polis said. “But as the quantities go up, the normal regular way we do vaccines is no longer enough.”
Polis said eventually, the process will move from people vying for a chance to get the vaccine to trying to convince those eligible to get one.
“Really it'll very quickly become more of an issue to make sure that people do get vaccinated,” he said.
Polis also noted that at last count, more than 6,000 Coloradans with COVID-19 have died since the start of the pandemic and that the number of hospitalizations for the virus had risen recently. He said it was too early to judge whether it represents a trend or a normal fluctuation.