Grocery workers, Coloradans 60-plus now up for vaccine

Ag workers, people with two or more high-risk conditions also prioritized

Ellis Arnold
earnold@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 3/5/21

In another fragmentation of Colorado's long priority list for receiving a coronavirus vaccine, the state officially moved Coloradans ages 60 to 64 closer to the front of the line and placed grocery …

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Grocery workers, Coloradans 60-plus now up for vaccine

Ag workers, people with two or more high-risk conditions also prioritized

Posted

In another fragmentation of Colorado's long priority list for receiving a coronavirus vaccine, the state officially moved Coloradans ages 60 to 64 closer to the front of the line and placed grocery and agricultural workers as the next group of “frontline” employees to receive shots.

“I'm focused on ensuring that Coloradans who are at the most risk of COVID due to the environment they work in can receive the vaccine so we can save more lives and end this pandemic,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a Feb. 26 news release.

Soon after, public health officials highlighted the arrival of federal authorization for a third vaccine, the shot made by Johnson & Johnson — also known as the Janssen vaccine. That's in addition to the previously approved Pfizer and Moderna shots.

“They were developed in record time,” John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health Department, said during a March 4 virtual town hall on vaccines in Colorado. He added: “There have been some concerns by some people of, 'Oh, that's too fast. I'm not sure I really trust those vaccines.'”

Douglas, who leads the public health department that covers Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties, emphasized to callers that the vaccine development process was safe.

Despite the speed, vaccines for COVID-19 “went through the same layers of review and testing as other vaccines,” an article by the University of Maryland Medical System says. “Due to the dire nature of the pandemic, certain barriers to development, related to funding and manufacturing, were removed.”

In Colorado, a new set of demographics reached their turn to receive shots on March 5, but people in the previous phases — such as Coloradans 70 and up — remain eligible and will still be prioritized, according to Tri-County Health.

Here's a look at how the state's vaccine schedule changed and some highlights from Tri-County Health's town hall event on vaccines.

Changes leading up to now

After Colorado received its first shipments of a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 14 and health-care centers began giving shots to health-care workers — part of the state's first phase of vaccinations — the governor announced that starting Dec. 30, people 70 and older were eligible for the vaccine.

By early January, some hospitals and other health care providers in the Tri-County jurisdiction began “phase 1B,” a stage that included people 70 and older and some health-care workers and first responders.

On Jan. 29, Colorado had again updated its vaccine schedule, rebranding that stage as phase 1B.1 and laying out a 1B.2 and a 1B.3.

Phase 1B.2 kicked off on Feb. 8 and included Coloradans age 65 to 69 and school workers for grades pre-K through 12, among other groups. At the time, the next step, 1B.3, was expected to include “frontline essential” workers in general, along with people age 16 to 64 with two or more high-risk health conditions.

Polis had announced that close to March 5, those groups would likely be eligible.

It was “also projected that Coloradans ages 60 and up will also be able to start receiving the vaccine around March 5,” a governor’s office news release said on Jan. 29.

Grocery, agriculture, 60-plus

Now, the newly updated schedule for phase 1B.3 officially includes people age 60 to 64 and specifies agricultural and grocery store employees as the frontline workers with new priority. The phase includes people age 16 to 59 with two or more high-risk conditions. The change was dated Feb. 26.

See the chart about halfway down the page at covid19.colorado.gov/vaccine for a list of high-risk conditions. Phase 1B3 began as expected, time-wise, March 5. 

New phase up next

The latest schedule added a phase 1B.4, expected to start in late March, that includes people age 50 and older — giving those Coloradans earlier priority than before — along with other frontline workers and people ages 16 to 49 with one higher-risk condition.

That includes frontline workers in the following fields: higher education staff in community colleges and colleges, food and restaurant services, manufacturing, the U.S. Postal Service, public transit and other transportation, governmental public health agencies, human services, faith leaders, direct care providers for Coloradans experiencing homelessness, and frontline journalists.

The phase somewhat mirrored the previously planned phase 2, which was set to begin in spring for Coloradans ages 60 to 64 and people with one high-risk condition.

Allergic reactions

The newly authorized third vaccine is also known as the Janssen vaccine due to its manufacturer, Janssen Biotech Inc., which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's website lists as “a Janssen Pharmaceutical Company of Johnson & Johnson.”

Aiming to calm fears about the vaccines, Douglas, the local health chief, told callers on the March 4 town hall event that few severe allergic reactions have occurred in response to the vaccine.

“Less than 1 in 200,000 will have an allergic reaction to this,” Douglas said. “That's the reason when you get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, you're advised to be under observation” for a short period of time.

Early safety monitoring of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine detected 10 cases of anaphylaxis — a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction — after the reported administration of about 4 million first doses, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Variants and vaccines

With some concerning variants of the virus circulating — such as the more-contagious variant from the United Kingdom — Douglas said current vaccines are expected to still offer protection.

“At least at this point, we don't have any strains of COVID circulating in the U.S. that we think your Pfizer vaccine wouldn't take good care of,” Douglas said.

He added: “Moderna and Pfizer are both developing vaccines to deal with some of the variant strains that have been identified, and they're probably the farthest ahead” in the case that variants begin to pose a large problem to current vaccines.

Early investigations suggest the current vaccines, as well as Johnson & Johnson's vaccine, may be somewhat less effective against some of the new variants in terms of preventing all symptoms. But even against variants, the vaccines do prevent a lot of mild and moderate cases, the data gathered so far suggest, and are very effective, health officials say, against preventing severe cases, hospitalizations and deaths, National Public Radio reported in early February.

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