Colorado’s revised vaccine plan removes priority for incarcerated people, shelter residents

By: - December 9, 2020 6:45 pm

The Denver city jail, known as the Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center, is pictured on Aug. 4, 2020. (John Herrick for Colorado Newsline)

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment published a revised COVID-19 vaccination plan, which de-prioritizes people in prison and those experiencing homelessness but adds long-term care facility residents to the top of the list.

Colorado is preparing to receive 95,600 doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine a week after the first shipment of 46,800 vaccine doses from Pfizer and BioNTech, according to Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID-19 incident commander. The Pfizer doses should arrive sometime between Dec. 13 and 16, Bookman said.

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

Long-term care residents added to highest-priority group

The new plan includes the highest-risk health care workers and individuals in Phase 1A — the highest-priority group — whom it defines as people who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period, and long-term care facility staff and residents. Previously, Phase 1A did not include long-term care facility residents, who were part of Phase 1C.

“Phase 1 will begin as early as we receive that first allocation of vaccine on the ground in Colorado,” Bookman said at a news briefing Dec. 9.

The original version of the state’s plan included a broader swath of the state’s critical workforce in Phase 1A, lumping together all inpatient and outpatient health care workers but noting that inpatient workers would receive the highest priority.

Some health care workers bumped to Phase 1B

Next, in Phase 1B, other health care workers and first responders can receive the vaccine. This group includes health care workers outside of long-term care facilities and those who have less direct contact with COVID-19 patients.

This group encompasses workers in home health care, hospice and dental settings; plus emergency medical workers, firefighters, police, correctional workers, dispatchers and funeral services staff.

People in Phases 1A and 1B are expected to receive COVID-19 vaccine doses during the winter of 2020 and 2021.

“All of these timelines are subject to change based on the supply chain from the federal government,” Bookman said.

People in prison and those experiencing homelessness no longer prioritized

The new structure of Phase 2 of the state’s vaccine plan represents the biggest departure from the original plan.

Previously, adults living in congregate housing — such as those living in homeless shelters, jails, prisons or college dorms — were given first priority in Phase 2A, along with essential workers. Phase 2B included people older than 65 and those with risk factors that could make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus, such as obesity and diabetes.

During a press conference on Dec. 1, Polis said that incarcerated people would not be given a vaccine before “free people,” despite the draft state plan that at the time stated otherwise.

Notably, most of the largest active outbreaks in the state are within state prisons. A total of 5,979 incarcerated people have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the pandemic and 15 people have died, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections COVID-19 dashboard.

But the revised plan erases the priority for people in congregate housing. Instead, it lumps together the following groups without specifying their order:

• People 65 or older
• People of any age with obesity, diabetes, chronic lung disease, significant heart disease, chronic kidney disease, cancer or who are immunocompromised
• People who interact directly with the public at work, such as grocery store workers and school and child care staff
• People who work in high-density settings such as farms and meat-packing plants
• Workers serving people who live in high-density settings
• Health care workers not included in Phase 1
• Adults who received a placebo during a COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial

Those groups are expected to receive the vaccine sometime in spring 2021.

Phase 3 planned for summer

The final group, Phase 3, includes adults ages 18 to 64 without high-risk conditions. This group might eventually be revised to include children and pregnant women, whom vaccine trials have so far largely excluded.

CDPHE expects this group to receive the vaccine during the summer of 2021.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Faith Miller was a reporter with Colorado Newsline covering the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories.