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Colorado Governor Jared Polis’s COVID-19 Unified Command Structure did a news briefing on Thursday Jan. 21 for the members of the Colorado News Collaborative, of which Ark Valley Voice is a member, providing an update on the COVID-19 response, including the current status of vaccinations.

They reviewed the state’s policies and response, which since March 5, 2020, have been a unified structure of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and Public Safety, reporting to Scott Bookman, who reports to the governor. The current vaccine rollout is being led by Brigadier General Scott Sherman.

“Colorado is rapidly and successfully ensuring all doses of the lifesaving vaccine are quickly put into arms – not sitting on shelves. That is why we are in the top tier of states when it comes to administering the vaccine and we continue to call for more to be deployed to our state.  Since the state received the very first doses of the vaccine, we have been focused on distributing them in a way that is equitable, saves the most lives, and ends the public health crisis as soon as possible,” said Governor Jared Polis. ” We are making a deliberate effort to meet Coloradans in their communities. No matter where you live, who you are, or what you do – we want to make sure that you can get the vaccine quickly and efficiently when that time comes.”

Since November, Colorado has been moved down the COVID-19 case ranking across all 50 states. Its seven-day incident rate per 100,000 people is far below the U.S. average. The state credits two facts for our ranking; First, the statewide mask order put in place by the governor in July kept the impact of the second wave of the virus lower.  Second, that Colorado has a robust public health system across all 64 counties.

Chaffee County Public Health Administrative Assistant Holly Russell (left) and CCPH Director Andrea Carlstrom hold a new shipment of Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on Dec. 22. CCPH courtesy photo.

That’s the good news. Late last week, it was learned that the promise by the outgoing Trump administration to release the federal reserve of vaccines was a hollow promise: the proverbial store was empty. The announcement threw all 50 state’s plans for vaccine distribution into turmoil. But Colorado is proceeding aggressively to extend vaccine distribution.

Colorado now stands 10th in per capita on the Centers for Disease Control site, and 17th in vaccine doses administered. While Colorado has only 1.8 percent of the U.S. population, the Unified Command Team estimates that 3.8 percent  of the population has had at least their first vaccination. But it is still in phase 1A of its plan for the order of vaccinations. Phase 1 B is a big group of  1.3 million people across all 64 counties.

The team reiterated that their mission remains: rapid deployment of vaccine – “shots in arms to save the most lives and end the crisis…to get back to whatever the new normal is.”

“We want everyone to know the vaccine is free, so income, immigration status, and health insurance should not be barriers. It is important that every adult who can get the vaccine does get vaccinated, so when you get the chance, please take it” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, Executive Director of CDPHE.

The state is currently moving out all the vaccine doses it is receiving, basically as soon as the allocations come in. The schedule that has developed seems to be holding.

On Tuesdays, the states gets word of the vaccine allocation for the coming week from Operation Warp Speed. It puts that information into a state spreadsheet that determines the allocation per county: comparing what each county has asked for versus its population. Then on Wednesday it sets the allocation for the next week by region and provider; orders are placed on Thursday and the orders are received on Mondays.

Locally, Chaffee County Public Health Director Andrea Carlstrom said that the county and Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center have now distributed 1,400 first doses to Chaffee County residents and it is doing well compared to other parts of the state (She admits to being a bit of a squeaky wheel with CDPHE on our behalf).”We’ll continue vaccinating the first group (first responders, residents 70+) through February, and then move on in March, to vaccination of the essential workforce.”

That said, Carlstrom issued a caution about being overly optimistic. “We are hearing that those counties that are successful moving through their current populations now might have to pause vaccinations for the rest of the state to catch up.”

CVS and Walgreens have been contracted by the federal government to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine in long term care facilities. Ark Valley Voice asked specifically about the state’s plans to assure vaccine doses in rural communities that don’t have these national pharmacy chains.

“Making sure the life saving and pandemic-ending vaccine gets into the arms of Coloradans in rural and hard to reach communities is one of our top priorities during this historic undertaking of vaccine distribution. In February the state will be able to activate additional pharmacies including the statewide systems for Kroger and Walmart initially, due to their locations through rural areas of the state,” said the Governor’s Press Secretary Conor Cahill.

“Eventually, the vaccine will be available at all pharmacies and through local health clinics,” he continued. “There are almost 500 vaccine providers enrolled in Colorado and this number will continue to grow as we expect vaccine supply to increase,” he added.  “There are other pharmacies activated through  the state system for vaccine distribution. These other pharmacies are: City Market, CDOC Pharmacy, CVS, Dale’s Pharmacy, Harris Pharmacy, King Soopers, Ordway Pharmacy, Red Rock Pharmacy, Safeway, Valley Wide Pharmacy, Valumed Pharmacy, Walgreens, and Willow Creek Pharmacy.”