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'Gross Incompetence': Gov. Polis Blasts Trump Administration Over Vaccine Distribution

Office of Gov. Jared Polis
Gov. Jared Polis does math during a news conference to estimate how many vaccines the state will receive in the coming weeks.

Gov. Jared Polis needed a dry-erase board and some math skills on Friday as he attempted to clarify Colorado’s current vaccine distribution situation in front of a live TV audience.

Polis kicked off his latest COVID-19 update by blasting the Trump administration, saying it lied to Colorado and other states about speeding up distribution of millions of vaccine doses from a national reserve.

“I’m not going to cast dispersions; my guess is it’s gross incompetence,” he said.

The news comes as many Coloradans continue to feel confused and frustrated by the vaccine rollout so far.

Polis said Colorado was expecting as many as 131,000 additional doses of the vaccine next week, based on an announcement from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. HHS Secretary Alex Azar had announced this week the Trump administration would start sending out doses it was holding back to ensure Americans got their second doses on time.

But those hopes were dashed when the Washington Post reported Friday that the reserve of those doses had already been exhausted.

“It’s not just Colorado — all the governors across the entire country (were) lied to,” Polis said.

Polis said the promise of additional doses led to projections that Colorado could have started vaccinating over half of residents ages 70 and up by the end of next week.

But without the extra doses, he says the state is still on track to offer the vaccine to anyone in that age group who wants it by Feb. 28. It just won’t happen as quickly, he cautioned.

Polis announced the state had completed phase 1A of vaccinations, which includes frontline medical workers.

He also said Walgreens and CVS are nearing completion of vaccinations at nursing homes around the state.

Many Coloradans still waiting

Meanwhile, hospitals and other health care providers say they are making improvements to their vaccine sign-ups.

The Vail Daily reports sign-ups for seniors in their area have improved after many residents complained of busy phone lines and appointments that filled to capacity within minutes of them being offered.

Several of Northern Colorado’s largest health care providers are encouraging residents to sign up for vaccine waitlists, regardless of whether they’re a current patient or not. The list includes UCHealth, Kaiser Permanente, Centura Health, Banner Health and Salud Family Health.

First Covid-19 vaccines arrive and are administered in Colorado.
Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post
Gov. Jared Polis, left, watches as Gina Harper, clinical coordinator with pharmacy, right, reconstitutes a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before it is administered to the first patients in Colorado at UC Health Poudre Valley Hospital on Dec. 14, 2020. During the process of preparing the vaccines, Harper adds sodium chloride to reconstitute the vaccine before injecting it into patients.

To get a vaccine, you must make an appointment. Providers are not recommending walk-up visits.

Neither Weld nor Larimer County’s public health departments have enough supply to hold mass vaccination clinics yet, but they could do so as supply increases in the coming months.

Tom Gonzales, Larimer County’s public health director, told county commissioners this week his department was considering the idea.

“Larimer County has a strong success rate of vaccinating a high number of people, either with H1N1 or others,” Gonzales said. “We’re already hiring temp staff and we will be prepared.”

The department also published a survey for employers of essential workers to fill out and get their staff in line for prioritized vaccines.

Weld’s health department says it’s letting hospitals handle vaccinating the county’s 70-and-up population for the foreseeable future.

Cases on the rise again

Some counties in Colorado’s high country, meanwhile, are dealing with a rapid rise in new case numbers.

Routt County saw its metrics this week rise to levels not seen since the state’s post-Halloween surge. Pitkin County recently moved into Level Red coronavirus restrictions, shutting down indoor dining at restaurants and reducing capacity limits at gyms and local retailers.

Local officials say increased traffic at restaurants and businesses surrounding ski resorts is likely to blame.

New hospitalizations around the state, however, remained flat, according to data from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

The increased spread prompted local officials across the state to issue familiar warnings.

In Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock held a press conference where he pleaded with residents to continue to wear masks as the vaccine rollout inches forward.

“We need to be patient a little longer,” Hancock said.

Scott Franz is an Investigative Reporter with KUNC.
I cover a wide range of issues within Colorado’s dynamic economy including energy, labor, housing, beer, marijuana, elections and other general assignment stories.