Gov. Polis touts vaccine progress, warns of continued risk amid variant spread

By: - March 9, 2021 3:46 pm

JBS employee Myryam Tapia, left, receives a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from registered nurse Laurie Tanner, right, during a two-day COVID-19 vaccination clinic inside the JBS Greeley Beef plant in Greeley March 5, 2021. (Alex McIntyre/The Greeley Tribune, pool)

Gov. Jared Polis on Tuesday shared more positive news about the state’s COVID-19 vaccine supply and efforts to administer doses to eligible groups, but urged Coloradans to continue following public health guidance as the virus — including the newly confirmed B.1.351 variant — continues to pose risks.

After receiving an initial bulk shipment of about 45,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine last week, Colorado expects to receive an additional 7,000 doses in the coming days, after previously being told by federal officials to expect none for several weeks. The state also now expects to receive 10,000 more doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines than previously anticipated this week, Polis told reporters at a press conference Tuesday.

As of March 5, Colorado has entered Phase 1B.3 of its vaccine rollout, extending eligibility to people aged 60 and up, those with multiple serious health conditions and grocery and agricultural workers. An estimated 74% of Coloradans aged 70 and up, who were among the first to become eligible, have received the vaccine to date.

“I hope that goes even higher,” Polis said. “I would encourage anyone to get the vaccine who’s eligible, but particularly people in their 70s and 80s and 90s. If you’ve been waiting, now’s the time to do it.”

Polis said that the state continues to monitor for the presence of variant strains of the coronavirus, including the B.1.351 variant, three cases of which have been detected among staff members and an inmate at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex, state officials announced Sunday. First discovered in South Africa in October 2020, B.1.351 is a potentially more transmissible and vaccine-resistant strain of the virus.

“Due to the evolving nature of this virus, we have to be ready and on guard,” Polis said.

With roughly 10% of Coloradans fully vaccinated and variants potentially posing further risks, Polis urged continued caution. He denounced what he called the “thoughtless rager” thrown by students at the University of Colorado Boulder on March 6, when a gathering of hundreds in the University Hill area of Boulder turned violent, resulting in property damage and clashes with police.

“It’s highly likely that some transmission occurred, and that kind of behavior jeopardizes everything that we care about in our state,” Polis said. “This is the kind of behavior that we can’t afford yet.”

More than 6,000 Coloradans have died from COVID-19 in the year since the state’s first confirmed case. Though case rates and hospitalizations have fallen from their December peak, roughly 300 patients remain hospitalized with COVID-19 in Colorado, and federal health officials have warned of the risk of a “fourth wave” of infections before a high enough percentage of the public is vaccinated n the coming months.

“While the worst days are behind us, there’s still great risk,” Polis said. “Wear a mask, avoid social gatherings unless you’re fully vaccinated, and let’s get this sooner rather than later.”

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

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