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Next phase of vaccine distribution expanded to include teachers, grocery store workers, seniors

Governor Polis announced the changes to who is next in line to get a COVID-19 vaccine during a press conference Wednesday.

COLORADO, USA — Colorado Governor Jared Polis announced Wednesday that the state is moving into the next phase of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan, and moved many new groups of Coloradans up in the vaccination order.

Coloradans age 70 and older will join frontline workers in receiving the vaccine as many parts of the state move to Phase 1B of the rollout plan.

The previous plan said all Coloradans age 65 or older were included in Phase 2 of the vaccination distribution plan.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) said they expect the majority of Phase 1A healthcare workers by Jan. 15. They said as that date gets closer they will be able to provide more information about next steps. 

Polis said the reason for the shift is due to the increased risk of death for people in that age group — more than 78% of COVID-19 deaths in the state are among adults age 70 and older.

"Any Coloradan 70 and up can now legally receive the vaccine," Polis said. "This will take about 4-5 weeks."

Phase 1B also includes:

  • Healthcare workers with less direct contact with COVID-19 patients (home health, hospice, pharmacy, dental, etc.)
  • EMS
  • Firefighters
  • Police
  • COVID-19 response personnel
  • Correctional workers
  • Funeral services

Polis also said that the state will work with employers to create targeted vaccine distribution plans for additional frontline workers as part of Phase 1B, such as in those who work in education, food and agriculture, public health, transportation or who provide support to those experiencing homelessness, as well as grocery store workers.

State health officials said they are working with local public health agencies to determine which additional providers will vaccinate members of the 1A and 1B groups as they continue to bring on new providers. 

CDPHE said several counties plan to hold mass vaccination clinics for members of their communities. In the coming days and as more information
becomes finalized, CDPHE will provide additional locations for vaccine distribution on the state's website.

9NEWS has reached out to state and county health departments for more information on the changes. Many school districts don't know when they will be able to start vaccinating teachers as part of phase 1B.

“I have gotten tons of questions from educators all across the state today,” Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association (CEA), told 9NEWS. “How is this going to work? When are we going to get the vaccine and where?…There are still a lot of questions that need to get answered, so we’re anxious to hear those details and to find that information out so that we know what to expect.”

Baca-Oehlert said CEA, which is the state’s largest teacher’s union, has been talking to the governor’s office for months hoping for this outcome.

She did not know the decision was coming down today.

CDPHE said they expect teachers will be able to start receiving vaccines this winter, as part of 1B frontline essential workers in education, but the plan is dependent on the federal supply. 

State health officials said they expect to continue to receive weekly allocations and will continue to vaccinate those in Phase 1B until everyone who wants a vaccine in that group has received one. CDPHE said because of the limited federal supply, it will take time to fully vaccinate all people in Phase 1B.

Denver Public Health and Environment (DPHE) said Wednesday that their officials have started organizing when it comes to figuring out how to vaccinate teachers, but nothing is set in stone yet.

“We are coordinating with Denver Public Schools and other school partners. We are working out arrangements with pharmacy groups to administer the vaccines for them. But nothing is finalized. We are just in the beginning phase of conversations,” Tammy Vigil with DPHE said.

There are 55,641 teachers in Colorado and about 4,000 administrative staff, according to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE).

Teachers expressed their relief with 9NEWS Wednesday night that they were going to be vaccinated sooner than expected.

“When I found out about it today, I was like where do I go?” St. Vrain Valley substitute teacher Daisy Lee Graeff said. “It’s so great to start 2021 off on a great note, and hopefully it stays that way!”

Other teachers had mixed emotions, telling 9NEWS they were excited, but also reluctant about starting the next semester without vaccines.

“If we’re about to get the vaccine, does it make sense to put everyone back into the classroom so quickly,” a teacher, who wanted to remain anonymous, asked.

In a statement about whether the state would provide guidance to districts after this change in the vaccine distribution plan, CDE said: “The decision to open schools for in-person learning is one made by local districts working with their local county health departments to determine what is best for their communities.”

The Douglas County School district posted an update to their website Wednesday night, calling the governor’s announcement “good news,” and saying they will continue their in-person learning plans:

“Preschool and elementary will return to in-person learning five days a week, beginning on Tuesday, Jan. 5, with center-based programming students at the middle and high school levels returning that same day to in-person learning four days a week.” 

The first phase of Colorado’s vaccine distribution plan, which the state named 1A, called for vaccinating frontline health care workers with close contact to COVID-19 patients, as well as residents and employees of nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Polis said Colorado is moving into Phase 1B, which used to only include other health care workers and first responders.

Now, it will also include people who are 70 and older, or those who work in education, food and agriculture, public health, transportation or who provide support to those experiencing homelessness. Grocery store workers and frontline journalists are also a part of this phase.

For more information on the vaccine distribution process, Coloradans may call COHELP at 303-389-1687 or 877-462-2911, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. - 10
p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. or visit our Vaccine
 for Coloradans 
website.

>>Watch video above: School districts across Colorado face staff, substitute teacher shortages. 

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