DENVER — Colorado hospital systems are scaling up their COVID-19 vaccine distribution, with plans to inoculate tens of thousands of Coloradans per week at hospitals and dozens of clinics, as the state pushes to vaccinate most of the 70-and-up population by the end of February.
Widespread vaccination was met with initial chaos when Gov. Jared Polis announced the plan for 70-and-up residents two weeks ago, though more clarity has been released over the last week.
Most major hospital systems in Colorado are offering vaccine signups for both patients and non-patients. If a resident is eligible to receive the vaccine, they'll receive appointment information from the hospital system to get vaccinated at a hospital or clinic.
Polis on Tuesday said Colorado aims to vaccinate 70% of the 70-and-up population by the end of February.
Doing so will depend on the federal government releasing more vaccine doses to states, or if another vaccine is approved, Polis said. Colorado is receiving about 70,000 vaccines per week. About half of all vaccine doses go to Colorado hospital systems, with 20% going through community health clinics, 20% through local public health agencies and 10% through retail pharmacies, which are helping vaccinate nursing homes.
The Department of Health and Human Services was expected Tuesday to begin adopting President-elect Joe Biden's plan to ramp up vaccinations by releasing reserved second doses immediately, CNN reported.
The governor and hospital leaders in a news conference explained the state's primary approach to vaccinating Coloradans: Vaccinating a smaller number of people at more clinics, as opposed to hosting mass-vaccination locations.
For example, Polis said, the state views it as more effective to vaccinate 1,000 people at 10 different sites, as opposed to 10,000 people at one site.
Centura Health CEO Peter Banko on Wednesday said their hospital system is expected vaccinate 9,000 people across Colorado this week, with plans to scale up to 14,000 people the week of Jan. 25. Centura would then increase that number to 16,000 vaccinations per week on Feb. 8, and then up to 22,000 per week beginning Feb. 24.
Centura is operating 35 vaccine clinics across Colorado.
Dr. Richard Zane, the chief innovation officer at UC Health, said Colorado's largest hospital system has vaccinated 55,000 people, including 14,000 who have received a second dose. About 12,000 people 70-and-up have been vaccinated through UC Health, Zane said.
Zane said UC Health is aiming to vaccinate 10,000 people per day. The hospital system is accepting patients and non-patients. For example, UC Health on Monday sent 600 vaccine invitations to 70-and-up people who were not previously patients.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week announced that people 65-and-older should be prioritized for the vaccine. Polis on Tuesday said Colorado will adopt that approach in the coming weeks but for now will focus on vaccinating those 70-and-up, as 78% of COVID-19 deaths in Colorado come from that age group.
In the meantime, Polis, Zane and Banko reiterated a familiar message to Coloradans: Continue to wear a mask and stay socially distant, as only 1% of state residents are protected by the vaccine.
"I know everybody is anxious," Zane said. "Continue to wear a mask, wash hands. By summer, we'll hopefully get past this."