Colorado COVID booster shots get green light from Polis, ahead of federal authorization

John Daley/CPR News
Soccer fan Oscar Filipe Sanchez received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine from UCHealth chief medical officer Dr. Jean Kutner. Sanchez had been told to wait a bit before getting his shot after he got sick with COVID-19 a couple of months ago. He said he would now be more trusting to go out. Kutner described being able to vaccinate people against the virus as profoundly positive. “You feel like you’re making an immediate difference, that every shot in an arm is one less person in the hospital” potentially, she said.

Gov. Jared Polis is giving the green light for all Coloradans over 18 to get COVID-19 booster shots, a step beyond what federal agencies have authorized.

In a press release sent out Thursday morning, the governor’s office said Polis made the move “to ensure every Coloradan can get the safe and effective COVID-19 booster shot in order to protect public health, reduce transmission, preserve hospital capacity, and alleviate the stress on health care workers from the COVID-19 pandemic in Colorado.”

Even though federal regulators at the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control have only authorized boosters for the elderly and people in other high-risk categories, Polis argues all Coloradans are at high risk by nature of living in the state right now.

That’s because Colorado faces a steady rise in coronavirus transmission, cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The state's epidemiologist warned Wednesday the pandemic is likely to worsen in Colorado in the coming weeks, with new projections showing the state could exceed hospital capacity.

“The health and safety of Coloradans has been my top priority throughout this global pandemic. We want to ensure that Coloradans have every tool they need to protect themselves from this deadly virus and to help reduce the stress on our hospitals and health care workers,” Polis said in the press release. “I was relieved to get the booster two weeks ago, and strongly encourage you to get it too.”

The change in booster eligibility came Thursday in the form of an executive order from Polis declaring Colorado as high risk for exposure or transmission of COVID-19.

The CDC has not responded to CPR News’ request for comment on Polis’ action. Public health experts have disagreed publicly about the need for the public to get booster shots if they are not in high risk categories.

But Polis said “every Coloradan” who is 18 years of age and older and six months past their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two months past their Johnson & Johnson vaccine, is now eligible for a booster. He also urged all Coloradans who are eligible and haven’t yet received any vaccine to get one immediately.

Wednesday he talked to a group of his advisors, the Governor's Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee, flushing out his argument that the move is warranted and legal “Colorado is a high-risk institution and everyone is eligible in Colorado on the argument that you are part of a high-risk environment by nature of being in Colorado,” Polis said. “We're providing yet another framework for that because of the very convoluted messaging that's occurring on that federally, we're trying to provide less ambiguity.”

In his presentation to the GEEERC, Polis stressed the state needed a serious push to get more booster doses out to Coloradans. He said it's been “frustrating” to him and members of his team, because they feel the federal agencies managing vaccines, the CDC and FDA, “bungled the messaging on the booster,” which he called “convoluted.” 

Polis said the basic message should be, “You should get it.”

He said it was already the state’s “sort of unofficial” policy of “not turning anybody down” who attests they should get it, despite guidelines put out by federal regulators to limit boosters to those older than 65 or considered at high risk by nature of their underlying health issues or professions. 

Making the booster more widely available should increase the state’s overall vaccination rate as well, and help decrease the spread of the virus in Colorado, the governor told members of the GEEERC.

The governor’s office said Thursday’s decision aligned with the views of Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eric France, who issued a statement on boosters earlier this week.

“The vaccine continues to protect against severe disease and hospitalization, but may allow persons to get mild disease, which leads to ongoing transmission. With the ongoing transmission, Coloradans -- and particularly unvaccinated Coloradans -- are at high-risk of getting the virus. As much as we’d like it to be over, the pandemic is still raging,” France said in his statement. 

“Please get the vaccine if you haven’t already and get a booster if it’s been six months since you got the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine (or two months since you got the J&J vaccine). The booster will keep your immunity up and help keep you out of the hospital.”