DENVER — Colorado is facing a spike in coronavirus infection that could overwhelm its hospitals. Gov. Jared Polis defied federal guidance on COVID-19 booster shots Thursday by issuing an order allowing all state residents 18 and older to get them.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules allow booster shots for those 18 and over who are at high risk of exposure to the virus. The FDA also permits boosters for people 65 and older, and adults with special medical conditions. The order of Polis declares Colorado at high risk for infection. This significantly increases the eligibility of residents.
“Because disease spread is so significant across Colorado, all Coloradans who are 18 years of age and older are at high risk and qualify for a booster shot,” the Democratic governor said in his order.
Comment requests from the FDA weren’t immediately returned Thursday due to federal holidays.
But, at a White House briefing, Dr. Rochelle Waensky, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stressed the importance of giving boosters to people who are already eligible under federal guidelines. She also stressed the importance of vaccinating children ages 5-11.
” FDA, as you probably know, is currently looking into data to expand boosters to all population,” Walensky stated.
Pfizer asked U.S. regulators Tuesday to allow boosters of its COVID-19 vaccine for anyone 18 or older, a step that comes amid concern about increased spread of the coronavirus with holiday travel and gatherings.
The Biden administration originally intended boosters for adults. However, FDA scientific advisors rejected additional Pfizer doses. The panel was not convinced that young healthy adults needed another dose, and recommended boosters only for specific groups.
People who are fully vaccinated are still strongly protected against hospitalization and death from COVID-19. However, immunity to infection can decrease over time and the extra-contagious Delta variant is rapidly spreading. U.S. health officials want to increase protection for at-risk individuals who were vaccinated months back, but they stress that it is still important to get the unvaccinated their first shot.
Polis highlighted vaccinations as an important tool in combating the new surge of cases that officials fear could overwhelm state hospitals by the end the year. In the past, he has expressed dissatisfaction with vaccine distribution and authorization by the federal government.
” The Governor was disappointed by the confusing message from FDA and CDC regarding boosters. He won’t let that harm Coloradans who need it,” Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for Polis, said Thursday. “The Governor is confident this clarification is within the guidelines of the CDC .”
Polis’ orders allows vaccine providers to give booster shots for anyone who has received double-dose Pfizer , or Moderna vaccines within the last six months. A booster can be given to people who have received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This vaccine hasn’t been as effective as its rivals. A booster is available to anyone who meets the criteria. They don’t need to stay with their original vaccine type.
About 62% of Colorado residents are fully vaccinated, putting the Rocky Mountain state above the national average and among the top 15 for states with the highest vaccination rate.
Yet Colorado had the seventh-highest COVID-19 diagnosis rate in the country over the last week, with 1 in every 259 people getting the virus, according to John Hopkins University data compiled by The Associated Press. Since weeks, the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths has been increasing.
About 1,426 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in Colorado, and State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said Wednesday the state could hit 2,258 COVID-19 hospitalizations by Jan. 1, a record high for the pandemic.
According to the Colorado Hospital Association, about 720 beds have been made available in intensive and acute care units due to the combination of a surge in the delta variant and staffing shortages. Some 17% of all beds are occupied by those with COVID or suspected of having it, the state health department said.
Polis put the number of available hospital beds at 623 in his order, and he has repeatedly emphasized that the unvaccinated – 28% of state residents, according to state data – account for 80% those hospitalized. Officials stated that many of those remaining are older patients who are more vulnerable to the virus or have immunocompromised.
“With an estimated 1 in 67 Coloradans infected, it is likely that nearly all Coloradans are exposed to COVID-19 where they live or work,” the governor said in his order. “I declare the entire State of Colorado high risk for exposure or transmission of COVID19 and therefore eligible for the safe and highly effective COVID-19 booster shot.”
Colorado’s seven day positivity rate — The percentage of people who tested positive for the virus among all those who have been tested — reached 9. 93% as of Wednesday.
That means for every 100 people tested over that week, nearly 10 of them tested positive. Last year, the highest seven-day positivity rate was 11. 21% as of Nov. 20.
More than 700,000 Colorado residents are known to have been infected during the pandemic, and 8,814 people have died.
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