This is how Denver will prioritize who gets a COVID-19 vaccine

The city is exploring vaccinating people experiencing homelessness living in places like shelters.

A vail of the Pfizer vaccine after arriving at Denver Health on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Denver Health)

A vail of the Pfizer vaccine after arriving at Denver Health on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Denver Health)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Denver’s plan to roll out COVID-19 vaccines will prioritize healthcare and other frontline workers during the first phase before making vaccines available to the general public by next summer, the final phase.

The first doses of a vaccine arrived in Denver earlier this week.

The three phases for vaccine distribution, announced on Thursday by the city, largely mirror the state’s plan and will include a winter phase starting this month through early 2021. Those who will be vaccinated include healthcare workers who are considered high-risk, like staffers who are in direct contact with COVID-19 patients, and people who live and work in long-term care facilities. Moderate-risk first-responders, like health care workers with less contact with COVID-19 patients and those who work in other health or hospice settings, will also be vaccinated. Cops, correctional officers, firefighters, funeral service staff, paramedics and other first-responders will also get the vaccine in this stage.

Bob McDonald, executive director the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, and Mayor Michael Hancock stressed the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness during a press conference Thursday. Hancock talked about the hesitation some people of color may feel about taking the vaccine due to racist healthcare practices.

“It’s a real concern with some particular communities, particularly with the African-American community,” Hancock said. “The history is long and concerning, and one in which we’re going to have to work hard to validate those concerns and also encourage folks to take the vaccine against those concerns.”

Dr. Connie Price, Chief Medical Officer for Denver Health, warned that while the vaccines are an important step, they’re “not an immediate fix” and people should keep taking precautions, like wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing. Price said the COVID-19 vaccines were administered to more than 75,000 people in clinical trails without any serious adverse side effects.

One way the city’s plan will differ from the state’s: It’ll focus on people experiencing homelessness.

McDonald said people experiencing homelessness will be a priority in the second phase of the vaccine rollout, which is set to begin in early 2021 and run through March 2021. That phase will prioritize those who:

  • are 65 years or older
  • have certain medical conditions
  • interact directly with the public at work, like grocery store workers and school staff
  • work in high-density settings, like farms and meat-packing plants
  • live in high-density settings
  • are health care workers but are not covered during the first phase
  • are adults who got the COVID-19 placebo

The city’s plan calls for people aged 18 to 64 to get a vaccine by summer 2021. Hancock said he plans on getting the vaccine during this phase.

Emergency management coordinator Cali Zimmerman, who works for the city’s public health department, said over text that the department is discussing how the city could provide vaccinations for people experiencing homelessness living in shelters.

Emergency management deputy director David Powell said Denver is still figuring out how much money the vaccination plan will cost to implement.

COVID-19 cases in Denver are trending downward, which McDonald credited to public health restrictions. The two-week cumulative case rate for the city is 762. That figure needs to be at 350 before Denver considers removing restrictions, most of which are set to expire Saturday.

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