Hope, caution as COVID vaccine eligibility expands

People file into Friendship Hall Feb. 10 for COVID-19 vaccines. The state is expanding vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 and older starting April 2. (Montrose Daily Press file photo)

All people 16 and older will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines starting April 2.

Governor Jared Polis’ Monday announcement of the expanded eligibility comes as more than 19,700 vaccines have been administered in Montrose County.

“The vaccines are critical. It’s the first time we’re able to go on the offensive,” Montrose County Media Relations Manager Katie Yergensen said. “That has been incredibly important and helpful to us seeing the light at the end of this very long tunnel.”

Not everyone to receive a vaccine in Montrose County resides in the county, which is home to about 42,000 people.

Polis announced expanded vaccine eligibility with some caveats: People 16 to 17 are eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine and people 18 and older can receive Pfizer’s, Moderna’s or Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine; this is because only Pfizer is approved for use in patients 16 — 18.

Also, the governor stressed, although everyone 16 and up becomes eligible Friday, that does not mean an appointment will be immediately available. Because of demand as well as supply, not everyone can be vaccinated in a single day.

But Polis was optimistic, saying the state fully expects that everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to receive one within six to eight weeks.

“This is a really important step Colorado will be taking. It means we are not reaching a wide level of distribution,” Polis said. “ … You will get it, whether the week of April 2, the following week, or the week after, or the week after that. We still anticipate six to eight weeks from now, everyone who wants a vaccine can get one.”

The public is reminded that it takes time for the body to develop antibodies after one receives a vaccine. For Moderna and Pfizer, that happens about two weeks after the second dose is administered. The same timeline appears to apply to Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine as well, which is a single-dose vaccine.

People are considered fully vaccinated after this timeframe. Although they are likely safer than non-vaccinated people, nobody should completely throw caution to the wind, the governor indicated.

“The last thing we want is a setback,” he said.

People who have not been vaccinated need to be especially cautious and maintain mask-use, social distancing and avoid large gatherings. Everyone who is sick should stay home.

Polis said the state’s virus numbers overall appear stable, with 807 new COVID-19 cases recorded Monday. The focus is on hospitalizations, and those numbers stood at 324, according to the governor.

“It’s a very stubborn number. It’s not going down much,” he said, going on to note Colorado’s death toll of nearly 6,100.

The death toll in Montrose County was 57, as of the county’s weekly report on March 26.

The state wants to continue increasing vaccination rates, which hit 79% among those who are 70 or older — considered the most vulnerable group. Among residents 65-69, the vaccine rate is 71% and among Coloradans 60-64, the rate is 53%.

“Every day we’re getting closer to ending the pandemic, but it’s not over yet,” Polis said, especially reminding those who have not been vaccinated to keep up with safety precautions.

“Each vaccine is a step closer to getting back to normal,” he said.

Montrose County is well positioned to ease out of restrictions, according to officials here. The county right now is in level “blue,” or caution, on the state’s risk dial and could transition to the next tier — and lowest — tier green, if numbers hold.

“Our numbers have been down and that’s pretty positive,” Yergensen said.

According to the county’s most recent weekly update of March 26, there were 11 cases since March 19 and the two-week positivity rate is 1.8%. At last report, there were 14 active cases and no hospitalizations.

Montrose County will be holding a vaccination clinic for first-dose Moderna shots Thursday; those 18 and older can make an appointment while appointment availability lasts (montrosecountyjic.com). People who need help making an appointment or who need a booster shot should call 970-252-4545, option 1.

Yergensen said there is high interest in the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shots, the supply of which is not coming as quickly as the county would prefer.

Vaccine doses are supplied by the state, which receives them from the federal government. The total anticipated supply (of all three vaccine types) for the week of March 28 is 422,090, Brig. Gen. Scott Sherman of the Colorado National Guard said during the governor’s update Monday. For the week of April 4, the supply is projected at 372,540 doses and for the week of April 11, Colorado anticipates receiving at least 391,260.

Polis reminded the public that the vaccines — which are being administered through county public health offices, certain community sites, private providers, pharmacies, nursing homes and similar facilities, and even, soon, mobile units to reach medically under-served communities — are free. If you are offered a vaccine for a fee, it could be a scam.

Senator Don Coram, R-Montrose, said the availability of vaccines is great news for those who want to receive a vaccine. “We might soon be getting this beast under control,” he said.

There is worry at a national level of becoming too relaxed, too soon. President Joe Biden on Monday urged states that have dropped their mask-mandates to reinstate them as the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voiced fears of a fourth surge and, in her words, a sense of “impending doom.”

Polis in response to questions said all major variants of COVID-19 are increasing in Colorado; however, the vaccines are still proving to be highly effective against those, too. He urged continued patience, mask-use, avoiding large gatherings and other precautions.

Coram said, however, he is more worried about opening too late than too soon.

“I think we need to take personal responsibility,” said Coram, who is tested twice a week and undergoes a temperature reading every morning before entering the Legislature. He urged “common sense” — hand washing, use of sanitizer, having a temperature reading and, he added “if you don’t feel well, stay home.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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