DENVER – Colorado children under 5 years of age could be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as early as Presidents' Day, state health officials announced Thursday.
Scott Bookman, the state health department’s COVID-19 incident commander, told reporters during a weekly news conference that the state is preparing for vaccines to be made available to children in the month of February, “possibly as early as Presidents' Day,” and that Colorado health officials are in talks with partners across the state to make sure they order vaccine shipments once they get the green light from the FDA and the CDC under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), a process which is expected to happen no later than Feb. 18.
State Epidemiologist Rachel Herlihy, from her part, said Colorado continues to see consistent improvement in the number of cases across the state, with the weekly average of new infections hovering in the 3,000s – numbers still well above what Colorado has seen in prior epidemic waves since the start of the pandemic.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 are also trending “quite well,” she said, with the current number of people hospitalized for the disease standing at 861 as of Wednesday, Feb. 9.
“I feel 800 Coloradans being in the hospital isn’t our ideal state for COVID-19,” Herlihy said when asked if the state was keeping a metric for when they think Colorado could be out of the water post-omicron. “I think we have ways to go but numbers between waves of illness were 200-300, so that would be a more comfortable place to get to.”
Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows Colorado has the eighth lowest rate across the country for current weekly hospitalizations, and state data shows the positivity rate – the metric used by federal, state and local public health officials to determine just how much of the virus is spreading across the community – is now at 10.86%, still more than twice the number recommended by health officials to curb transmission of COVID-19.
As the omicron wave subsides, Colorado health officials say they’re looking at various scenarios and what the right strategies might be coming into the fall and winter as the state expects high immunity rates to continue over the next several months, even though questions remain on how long that reprieve will last not only across Colorado but across the country as a whole.
Both Herlihy and Bookman urged Coloradans to get vaccinated or boosted if they haven’t already done so. Data from the state found Coloradans who’ve received a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine are 12 times less likely to be hospitalized for the disease and 56 times less likely to die from COVID-19 than unvaccinated people.
Currently in Colorado, only 24% of people who’ve received their initial two shots or their single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine and who are eligible to get their boosters, are now fully vaccinated but haven’t kept up to date with their vaccines, meaning they have not received a booster. Compare that to 35% of Coloradans who have been fully vaccinated (meaning they received their initial two doses – or one, if they chose to get the Johnson and Johnson vaccine) and also received their booster shot once they were eligible.
As of Thursday, the number of unvaccinated Coloradans was 1.1 million (or 22% of the whole), per data from the state’s Immunization Information Systems (CIIS).
The state also touted its free at-home testing program, saying that – to date – more than 2.08 million tests have been distributed to Coloradans across the state.
When asked about what to expect in schools as many counties statewide lift the remaining of their mask mandates, Bookman responded that even though the state and many local municipalities are doing away with mask mandates, the state still encourages Coloradans to wear them indoors as the number of cases is still at very high levels.
“Local control is a critical component of where we are. We’ve seen significant decreases of illness across the state [and] we know how important it is to normalize schools, to support the most optimal learning in-person environments,” Bookman said. “Moving to a place where masks are no longer mandated, where quarantines don’t have to be done, moving to a place where COVID-19 is treated like other communicable diseases in our schools is certainly where we’re headed at this point. … Again, we don’t know what the fall is going to look like. We’ll have to be nimble and prepare for any number of things.”
Pressed again on the mixed messaging coming from the CDPHE surrounding masks, especially the wearing of KN95s as counties lift mandates, Bookman said the state knows public health guidance has “felt at times like a seesaw,” but reiterated the state has a number of tools at their disposal including vaccines, masks, therapeutics and testing that it didn’t have a year and a half ago.
“While the next few months look very promising, it is possible that we will come back to – at another point – on how to talk about what measures do we need to take. It is likely that we will need to do additional doses of the vaccine,” Bookman said in closing remarks. “Will we come to a point where we need to put more masks on again?”