Colorado prepares for limited vaccine deployment

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    By Randi Pierce
    Staff Writer

    Approval of a COVID-19 vaccine is on the horizon, and health officials at the local, state and national levels are preparing to deploy limited doses of the vaccines across the country.

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) placed the state’s first order on Dec. 3 with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for 46,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in anticipation of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). 

    The FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is meeting in open session today to discuss EUA of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in people 16 and older.

    On Dec. 17, the committee will consider EUA for the Moderna Inc. vaccine for use in people 18 and older.

    According to the CDPHE, regular vaccine allocation from the federal government will be based on the size of Colorado’s total population and the quantity of ready-to-ship doses from the manufacturer. Colorado makes up 1.69 percent of the U.S. population, so the CDPHE has stated it expects 1.69 percent of the available vaccine.

    “The availability of a COVID-19 vaccine is a major turning point in this pandemic, and we will act as swiftly as possible to get it distributed once it is approved,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the CDPHE, last week. “We are working closely with local public health agencies, hospitals and other health care providers, pharmacies, and diverse community partners to distribute and administer the vaccine as equitably and efficiently as possible. Because of limited quantities, it will take several months to get the vaccine to everyone who wants it — so we need Coloradans to continue to take all possible measures to prevent the spread of the virus.”

    Pfizer plans to ship the first vaccine allocations to states within 24 hours of the FDA issuing an EUA. Colorado will begin administering the vaccine shortly after the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) makes its recommendations for vaccine use, the CDPHE announced. 

    The CDPHE announced the state will share when the vaccine arrives in Colorado. Due to safety and security precautions, the ultra cold storage locations of the vaccine will be kept confidential. 

    The CDPHE stated it continues to monitor the development of COVID-19 vaccines and will provide regular updates on Colorado’s vaccination planning and distribution plans.

    Locally, both San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) and Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) have announced they have applied to receive doses.

    The state launched its COVID-19 vaccine Web page, https://covid19.colorado.gov/vaccine, Wednesday, which details information about the vaccine process and available information about how it will be deployed, though it notes, “More information about provider settings and options for phase 2 and phase 3 recipients will be coming soon.”

    Who will be vaccinated first?

    According to the state’s website, “The first delivery of the Pfizer vaccine will provide 46,800 vaccine doses. These vaccines will go to health care workers who are treating COVID-19 patients. These workers have been on the front lines since the beginning of the pandemic and are directly exposed to COVID-19 as part of their job. Protecting the people who care for COVID-19 patients will help us save lives until the vaccine becomes widely available.”

    That follows the phased approach Colorado will take in deploying vaccines, which is further outlined on the vaccine Web page.

    But, as SJBPH Director of Communications Claire Ninde pointed out, only a fraction of those who fall under Phase 1a will receive the vaccine due to the limited doses that will initially be available.

    “Initial vaccine supply will not be sufficient to immediately immunize all critical populations in Colorado and the state’s allocation plan relies upon the Phased Implementation Plan created by the Governor’s Expert Emergency Epidemic Response Committee’s Medical Advisory Group, CDPHE, the Governor’s Office, and after extensive community engagement with community members and leaders,” the state’s website explains.

    Ninde added that, in addition to a limited number of doses being received through the first batch, Pfizer’s next batches are already accounted for.

    The state’s website indicates that the majority of people served under Phase 1a will receive the vaccine through their employer.

    When will a vaccine be available for anyone who wants it?

    Ninde cautioned that the vaccine is “months out” from being available for the general public.

    The state’s website further explains, “After the FDA authorizes a vaccine and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) makes recommendations for its use, we expect it will take several months before everyone who wants one can get one because of limited availability. Prioritizing health care workers who have been on the front lines of the pandemic and are directly exposed to COVID-19 as part of their jobs will help us save lives in the next few months.”

    In a joint remote press conference with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci -— National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director — explained that while initial doses will be available this month, the doses for the general public who do not fall into a higher category (for example, health care workers, those in congregate housing, those 65 and older) are likely to be available mid- to late April 2021.

    “This is logistically a huge endeavor,” Ninde said.