First doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrive at state lab in Colorado

Hospital workers to receive first inoculations as months-long distribution process begins

By: - December 14, 2020 11:13 am

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, left, accepts the state’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine with the help of Patrick Belou, logistics specialist at the laboratory for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, early Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in east Denver. The state received 975 frozen vials of the vaccine, which will be distributed immediately. (AP pool photo/David Zalubowski)

Gov. Jared Polis and state health officials were on hand Monday morning to receive Colorado’s first shipment of the coronavirus vaccine at a lab in Denver, beginning the first phase of a vaccination process that could last for six months or more.

Polis personally signed for the delivery of 975 doses of a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s lab just after 8 a.m.

“I’ve been waiting to do this signature for nine months,” Polis said, according to a pool report.

“It’s a great thing to be a part of,” said FedEx delivery driver Preston Riley, according to the report. “Get our country back moving again.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, right, follows the cart bearing the state’s first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine to a freezer with Patrick Belou, logisitics specialist at the laboratory for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, center, as department officials look on early Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in east Denver. The state received 975 frozen vials of the vaccine, which will be distributed immediately. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The doses shipped to the CDPHE’s Denver lab will be distributed to Rose Medical Center and Saint Joseph Hospital, while two other shipments arrived at hospitals in Boulder and Fort Collins on Monday morning.

The initial deliveries, shipped from Pfizer’s Michigan manufacturing plant after the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization on Friday, included 46,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Another 96,000 doses of a vaccine developed by Moderna are expected to be shipped to Colorado beginning as early as next week.

Both vaccines must be administered twice within three weeks to be effective, meaning that the expected doses will be enough to inoculate roughly 71,000 Coloradans. On Dec. 9, state officials released a revised vaccination plan that gives first priority to health care workers who are in close contact with COVID-19 patients and residents and staff at long-term care facilities like nursing homes.

Colorado’s revised phases of vaccine distribution was released Dec. 9, 2020. (screenshot)

Other health care workers and first responders will be next, followed by a larger group of at-risk individuals including people over 65, people with certain medical conditions and workers at grocery stores, schools and other essential services. State officials don’t expect the vaccine to be available to the general public on demand until summer 2021.

“I know people want to move fast, but we have to be careful,” Scott Bookman, CDPHE’s COVID-19 incident commander, said as the vaccine shipment arrived at the department on Monday, according to the pool report. “This is just the beginning of a very long road. This is the gateway to the end of this pandemic.”

“The masks, they’re not coming off for a while,” Bookman added. “We need to be patient.”

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Distribution of the Pfizer vaccine is a “huge logistical operation,” Bookman said, requiring a statewide network of ultra-cold freezers capable of storing the drug at the required –75 degrees Celsius.

Workers at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins are expected to be the first Coloradans to be vaccinated on Monday afternoon.

Polis hailed the speed of the vaccine’s development — experts and federal officials once expected the process to take 18 months or more — as a “triumph of modern science.” But he also noted the toll that the virus has taken on Colorado since it began spreading in Colorado as early as January of this year.

As of this weekend, nearly 4,000 Coloradans have died after contracting COVID-19, and given the trajectory of the virus, CDPHE officials said that number could grow by several thousand in the next few weeks alone. Another wave of unemployment has crashed over the state following new public-health restrictions on restaurants and other businesses, while fiscal uncertainty and the threat of budget cuts loom over many state and local government services.

“This has been on the shoulders of every Colorado family,” Polis said Monday. “Whether you got COVID or not, whether you personally lost somebody or not. The economic, the social impact, the psychological impact — this has been a very tough year.”

Pool reporters Jesse Paul of the Colorado Sun and Seth Klamann of the Denver Gazette contributed to this report. This story was updated at 4:49 p.m., Dec. 16, 2020, to include the video “COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Day in Colorado” from the office of Gov. Jared Polis. It was updated at 4:33 p.m., 2020, to correct the number of vaccines included in the initial delivery.

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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