DENVER – Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Friday that unvaccinated Coloradans should “suck it up” and get vaccinated against COVID-19 and continued to urge those who do contract COVID to seek out monoclonal antibody treatments as the state tries to avoid topping its hospital capacity in coming weeks.
“I just want to convey in so many ways, if you are unvaccinated, if you’ve been hesitant for whatever reason, just take a fresh look at that risk assessment. If there’s some reason you haven’t been vaccinated yet, if it’s a fear of needles, just get over it and do it,” Polis said in a news conference. “It you get COVID, they’re sticking a lot of needles in the hospital. IV, it will be in you for days. So, whatever that reason is, just suck it up and get protected because this thing isn’t going to go away.”
He and Dr. Rachel Herlihy, the state epidemiologist, held a news conference to shine more visibility on the use of the monoclonal antibody treatments to treat COVID-19 patients early on before they are hospitalized – one of the strategies the state aims to use to try to stem quickly rising tide of COVID hospitalizations in Colorado in recent weeks.
Polis said the treatments, which are being utilized under emergency use authorization from the FDA, can help reduce the chance of a person with COVID-19 getting hospitalized by up to 70% if taken early on.
But he also noted that getting vaccinated reduces a person’s chance of not only contracting COVID but their chance of getting hospitalized generally by around 90% across all ages.
“Get vaccinated. This is not a backup plan,” Polis said of the antibody treatments. “But if you get COVID and you’re at risk, you should get monoclonal antibody treatment.”
Most of the treatments that currently have emergency use authorizations are authorized for people at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 that could lead to hospitalization or death who are either not vaccinated or who are not expected to have an adequate immune response to the vaccines, including immunocompromised people.
Polis said it was especially important for people who are immunocompromised or age 50 and up to get the treatment early on if they contract COVID-19, as those people are more likely to have less-robust immune responses to the virus and likely got vaccinated earlier in the process.
Since the state is trying to get people to use the treatments before they are hospitalized, Polis said that means people who think they might have COVID-19 should get tested so they know for sure and can try to get the treatments before their conditions get worse.
Polis and Herlihy reiterated data they presented at a meeting on Wednesday which they said could decrease the number of hospitalizations at Colorado’s peak by around 150-300 people depending on how widely the treatments get used.
Herlihy said Wednesday that updated models show Colorado is likely to top 2,250 hospitalizations in December if booster shot and antibody treatment use remain on their current trajectories.
If uptake increases, the projections show hospitalizations could peak at 2,156 on Dec. 24 instead.1,4 And if 75% of people eligible to get a booster get one by Dec. 31, hospitalizations could peak at 2,082, the data she presented showed.
As of Friday, 19% of the 1,476 people in Colorado hospitals because of COVID-19 were fully vaccinated, while the other 81% were not, Polis said.
Colorado public health officials see the increase in availability for the antibody treatments and increased update of booster shots as the main two ways to limit the number of people hospitalized in Colorado when the state reaches its peak.
Polis said Friday he would issue an order in coming days that will make it so people can receive the antibody treatments without orders from a doctor if they can prove they have tested positive for COVID-19. He also said that in addition to the five mobile treatment centers, the state would add five more by mid-December in both rural and urban areas of the state.
A woman named Jill Lester who got the monoclonal antibody treatments along with her husband after both contracted COVID-19 this summer spoke about her experience using the treatments. They were both fully vaccinated, but she said each came down with difficult bouts with the virus.
After each received the antibody treatments, they were feeling better within hours to days and were able to recover not long after. She said the treatment was “efficient and uneventful.”
“I’m glad we have this treatment technology to help us recover better from fighting the illness,” Lester said.
Polis again brushed aside questions about whether it was time to reimpose mask requirements or business restrictions as officials sound warnings about the quick-rising hospitalizations, which they have pointed to throughout the pandemic as being the North Star in determining government responses.
He again pointed to the widespread vaccine availability and Colorado’s rate of about 73% of Coloradans ages 12+ who have been fully vaccinated as reasons as to why this November and December’s spike was different from last year’s, when restrictions were in place.
“If you have the booster, the risk is more than 10 times less than it was last December when nobody was vaccinated at this point,” Polis said, adding that unvaccinated people faced a much higher risk because of the delta variant.
He said he was looking at New Mexico as a local example as to why a statewide indoor mask requirement has not been put back in place. Colorado’s neighbors to the south have had a mask mandate in place since late August and will keep it in place through Dec. 10 at least amid the state’s current surge, which Polis said mirrors Colorado’s. New Mexico is also expanding booster eligibility to all adults like is the case in Colorado, its governor announced Friday.
“It’s easy to say wearing a mask will protect you because absolutely it delays your chance of getting COVID at any given point in time. It’s a little harder to figure out what a mask order does in different areas and what impact that might have,” Polis said. “One hypothesis is the unvaccinated are the least likely to follow a mask order. And obviously, if we’re trying to get them to do one thing, it’s to get vaccinated.”
When Polis was asked if there’s anything the state could have or should have done differently over the past months to avoid getting to where it sits today, he said he wished that more Coloradans would have been convinced to get vaccinated. As of Friday, 72.4% of Coloradans ages 12+ were fully vaccinated and 79.3% had received at least one dose.
“If Colorado had been at 90% instead of 80% six weeks ago, we wouldn’t be facing anything like the things we’re facing today,” the governor said.
And as to what he would like to say to unvaccinated people now seeking out the monoclonal antibody treatments, which are also only being utilized under emergency use authorizations, he said he would say they made a mistake by not getting vaccinated, but that Colorado wasn’t going to hold it against them.
“It’s apparently too late and you didn’t trust the vaccine; I’m sorry you didn’t,” Polis said. “…But now that your life’s literally on the line, trust modern medical science. Take the monoclonal treatment. It’ll decrease your chances of hospitalization by 70%.”