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'The eagle has arrived': State health leaders excited over COVID vaccines, encourage others to get it

State health leaders provided an update Wednesday on COVID-19 and the latest plans for vaccine distribution.

DENVER — State health leaders on Wednesday shared the latest on Colorado's COVID-19 vaccination process and expressed excitement over the latest developments, calling it a light at the end of the tunnel.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) Chief Medical Officer Dr. Eric France, UCHealth Infection Prevention Senior Medical Director Dr. Michelle Barron and Denver Public Health Associate Director Dr. Judith Shlay presented at the briefing.

Shlay said she's a strong proponent of vaccines because they save lives. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer "will change the course of our society and get us back on track," she said. 

The first doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Colorado earlier this week, inspiring hope that life may soon return to what it was like before the pandemic.

The state is scheduled to receive more than 45,000 Pfizer vaccine doses through Wednesday. State leaders expect another 95,000 doses by next week if another vaccine gets FDA authorization.

Shlay thanked the state for guidance on phased inoculations but said the process will take time.

"We need to have patience in the process," she said. "Getting the vaccine does not mean you stop what you are doing to protect your family … you still need to wear a mask, wash your hands ..."

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When asked about the fear many have expressed over the new vaccines, Barron said, "as physicians, we need to show we are getting it, the community needs to show they are getting it."

Barron added that it's critical for health care workers to understand what people’s concerns are and address them.

"New vaccines are what we've lived through the last few decades," France said about the shingles and chickenpox vaccines during the briefing. "I've seen a number of diseases all but disappear." 

Shlay said of the 7,000 responses from health care workers on the Denver Health campus, 90% of them want the vaccine.

"The eagle has arrived, everybody wants it as soon as possible. For us, it is great news because it has been a long journey,” Shlay said.

Michael Rouse, a Moderna phase three trial volunteer, was also at Wednesday's briefing. 

"When the COVID first became a pandemic, I felt there were two options. Get into the fight or hide from it," he said, adding he felt it was a personal obligation to get involved especially as an African-American man. "Vaccines are not race-based, they are for all humans."

Medical workers in Fort Collins received Colorado's first COVID-19 vaccinations on Monday. People who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients for 15 minutes or more, like emergency room workers and staff at long-term care facilities, will receive first-priority vaccines, state officials announced last week. 

They will be followed by additional healthcare workers, staff at dental offices, hospice workers and first responders, who are all included in the first phase of the three-phase distribution plan.

Members of the general public aren't expected to get the vaccine until the summer, according to CDPHE's distribution plan. 

Officials said they expect a lot of questions about the vaccine and the process and have set up 1-877-462-2911 as a hotline to call for information. Vaccine information can also be found online by visiting here.

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