In the coming weeks of the spring semester, thousands of Colorado teachers and child care workers will wield a formidable defense against the coronavirus. They’ll be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting Feb. 8, Gov. Jared Polis announced at a news conference Jan. 29.
The state’s aiming to make sure teachers, school staff and child care workers can get their first doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech or Moderna vaccine within three weeks of Feb. 8, Polis said. There’s no requirement for them to get vaccinated.
Regardless of occupation, Coloradans ages 65 to 69 will also have access to vaccine starting on Feb. 8, Polis announced.
The state is currently in phase 1B of its vaccination plan and focused on getting the lifesaving vaccine to people 70 and older. But phase 1B also contains a large swath of “frontline essential workers” — educators, agricultural workers, restaurant staff and more — and until Jan. 29, state officials had indicated that people in this level of the phase wouldn’t be able to get the vaccine until March 1. Officials had indicated, however, that teachers would have the highest priority of the remaining groups in phase 1B.
According to the updated vaccination plan, the people eligible for vaccine starting Feb. 8 as part of phase 1B.2 include:
• Coloradans ages 65 and older
• Preschool through 12th grade educators, including full-time and substitute teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, counselors, school administration, school safety workers and school support staff
• Child care workers in licensed child care programs
The state’s updated plan also explains who qualifies for the next phase, 1B.3. State officials estimate that phase will begin around March 5.
Phase 1B.3 includes people age 16 to 64 who work in one of the following industries or occupations:
• Food and agriculture
• U.S. Postal Service
• Public transit and specialized transportation
• Public health
• Frontline human services workers
• Faith leaders
• Direct care providers for people experiencing homelessness
• Frontline journalists
Phase 1B.3 also includes people ages 16 to 64 with two or more of the following health conditions:
• Chronic kidney disease
• Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
• Down syndrome
• Heart conditions including heart failure, cardiomyopathies or coronary heart disease, and severe valvular/congenital heart disease
• Sickle cell disease
• Solid organ transplant
• Disabilities that prevent someone from wearing a mask
Polis’ announcement on teacher vaccination came days after groups of Denver Public Schools teachers began holding walk-ins, hoping to call attention to the safety risks of in-person teaching and spread the message that they should have access to the vaccine. Groups of high school teachers gathered before class started and entered together, some carrying signs.
A spokesperson said that Denver Public Schools is partnering with Children’s Hospital Colorado to offer vaccinations to DPS employees.
“Denver Public Schools is deeply committed to making the COVID-19 vaccine available to all staff when it is available. Today, we have finalized the details of a partnership with Children’s Hospital Colorado (Children’s Colorado) that will allow us to offer vaccinations to all of our roughly 18,000 DPS employees and charter school staff members,” wrote DPS media relations manager Winna Maclaren in an email to Newsline. “The safety of our staff and students remains a top priority. We’ve worked in collaboration with health experts and DPS educators to create a plan for a safe return to in-person learning, with several layers of safeguards in place to protect the health of our staff and students.”
For the 2019-2020 school year, 55,600 public K-12 schoolteachers were employed in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Education. The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimated that a total of 165,000 Coloradans worked in educational instruction and library occupations in 2019.
Meanwhile, upwards of 550,000 Coloradans are 70 and older. The state aims to vaccinate 70% of those older folks by Feb. 28.
As of Jan. 29, Polis said the state had vaccinated 40% of people 70 and up.
“I’m hopeful that 80 to 90% of age 70 and up will want it and have the opportunity to get the vaccine by the end of February,” he said.
Given the laborious rollout of vaccines across the country, widespread mask wearing and social distancing are, overall, a far greater weapon against COVID-19 than the slow increase of the vaccination rate, state modeling shows.
Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist, said Jan. 26 that if Colorado maintains current levels of “transmission control” — keeping the virus at bay by wearing face coverings and avoiding gatherings — an estimated 700 more Coloradans could die from COVID-19 before June 1. Effective vaccine distribution potentially reduces that number to around 500, according to a chart Herlihy presented.
But if fewer people wear masks and distance, and Colorado’s transmission control level drops significantly, the number of additional deaths could climb into the thousands — regardless of how many Coloradans get vaccinated.
Those with questions about the vaccine can visit CDPHE’s website or call a toll-free hotline, 1-877-CO VAX CO (1-877-268-2926). The phone line is available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with answers in multiple languages.
Editor’s note: This article was updated at 2:59 p.m., Jan. 29, 2021, with more information about the new vaccination plan.