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Vaccines having impact on COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities, state health officials say

The state of Colorado is moving onto its next phase of COVID-19 vaccine distribution on March 5.

COLORADO, USA — State health officials touted their efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities and said on Monday that the data indicate vaccines are beginning to have an impact.

Scott Bookman, COVID-19 incident commander for Colorado, said 88% of residents and 66% of staff members at long-term care facilities in the state have received a COVID-19 vaccine. This has led to a marked decrease in novel coronavirus cases and deaths in these facilities, he said.

“There has been an absolutely dramatic decrease in the number of cases at long-term care facilities as compared to the rest of the population,” Bookman said. “This is the evidence that we have been hoping to see. This is the true light that we have been waiting for. It shows the impact vaccines are having.”

So far, cases in long-term care facilities have accounted for 38% of the deaths associated with COVID-19 in the state, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

As of February, cases in long-term care facilities make up less than 1 percent of infections across the state. 

>> Video below: State health officials provide 3/1/21 update on COVID-19.

The state is working to educate the staff members at long-term case facilities who have declined a vaccine, Bookman said.

While the data is encouraging, it's still a waiting game before facilities get the green light to lift indoor visit restrictions. 

The state said most facilities across in Colorado are able to have indoor visits with restrictions, including social distancing. In an interview, state leaders told 9NEWS they are waiting on further guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

"The challenge is the vaccine doesn't necessarily stop people from getting the virus, it stops people from dying from the virus," said Bonnie Silva, the co-chair for Colorado's Department of Healthcare Policy and Financing. 

This update from CDPHE came four days before the state of Colorado is slated to open vaccinations to people over the age of 60, as well as a pool of essential workers that includes grocery store and meatpacking plant employees.

Bookman said the state will release information about mass vaccination sites later this week.

“Our goal in our mass-vaccination campaign is to ensure that we use an equitable strategy to save as many lives as possible,” he said.

Colorado will receive 45,000 doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine later this week. Bookman said the state was weighing different strategies when it comes to this vaccine, which requires one dose instead of the two needed for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

RELATED: J&J's single-shot COVID vaccine gets FDA emergency use authorization

Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, said health officials are continuing to monitor COVID-19 variants that have been discovered in Colorado, including the more infectious and possibly more deadly one that originated in the U.K. 

Modeling indicates it’s highly unlikely that this variant would cause Colorado’s hospital system to become overwhelmed, she said.

“There are really limited boundaries/risk scenarios where we look at exceeding health-care capacity in our future,” Herlihy said. “That has to do with the growing level in immunity in our state both because of prior infection and also vaccine rollout.

“Certainly variants are concerning," she said. "We know they could be a setback in our response, but at least with the variants we are seeing here in Colorado … we think that we’re doing OK right now in continuing to make progress with gaining immunity in the state.”

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The group eligible for vaccines starting Friday, called Phase 1B.3, includes about 958,000 people, including people 60 and older, grocery store employees and those ages 16-59 with two or more high-risk health conditions. One company that falls into that category, the JBS Greeley meatpacking plant, announced that it will hold a vaccine clinic on March 6 and 7.

The next phase, 1B.4, will be much larger and includes an estimated 2.5 million Coloradans, including those 50 and older. That group could become eligible to receive the vaccine as early as March 21.

As of March 1, 913,102 people in Colorado have been vaccinated with one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, and 482,442 have been vaccinated with two doses. Both vaccines are about 95% effective and require two doses to achieve immunization.

During an update last week, CDPHE said that cases and hospitalizations had plateaued in recent weeks but were still relatively low. Both had been declining steadily since peaking in December in Colorado.

How Colorado is distributing the COVID vaccine

Colorado is administering the COVID-19 vaccine in phases.

Frontline health-care workers were the first to receive the vaccine, followed by first-responders and people 70 and older. The goal was to vaccine 70% of the people in that age group by the end of February.

Educators, child-care workers and people 65 and older are also currently eligible to receive the vaccine. Essential workers are next in line.

RELATED: Vaccine guide: What to know about getting the COVID-19 vaccine in Colorado, and what happens next

RELATED: New vaccine phases announced, 60+ eligible this Friday in Colorado

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