Colorado health officials this week declared the entire state a high-risk environment for COVID-19, saying all vaccinated adults now qualify for booster shots to help fend off the virus once enough time has elapsed since their original inoculation.
Dr. Eric France, the state’s chief medical officer, said in a news release Monday evening that the whole state is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, a “significant wave of disease spread” that makes it a potentially high-risk place to live and work.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s booster-shot guidance for recipients of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines identified high-risk settings as one of the qualifying conditions for third doses, but defined them much more narrowly, with only people who live in congregate facilities like nursing homes or work in places that require extensive interaction with the public making the cut.
“The vaccine continues to protect against severe disease and hospitalization, but may allow persons to get mild disease, which leads to ongoing transmission,” France said in a statement. “With the ongoing transmission, Coloradans — and particularly unvaccinated Coloradans — are at high risk of getting the virus. As much as we’d like it to be over, the pandemic is still raging.”
Jessica Bralish, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said Tuesday that Colorado is in alignment with the CDC because the federal agency’s guidance says you can get a booster if you are at “high risk because of where you live or work.”
“Because disease spread is so significant across Colorado, all Coloradans (ages 18+) qualify for a booster,” she said in a statement. “With an estimated 1 in 48 Coloradans infected, it is likely that all Coloradans can be exposed to COVID-19 where they live or work.”
The state health department also called attention to a recent public health order that included a provision forbidding vaccine providers from refusing to give booster shots to anyone 18 and older who says they meet the eligibility criteria, and who got their last Pfizer or Moderna shot at least six months ago, or their Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago.
Some local departments, including Boulder County Public Health, have adjusted their messaging to emphasize that almost anyone can get a booster to help stop the virus’ spread.
Colorado’s prevalence of COVID-19 makes the state a high-risk place to live & work. Anyone who is 18+ and is 6 months past their initial series of an mRNA vaccine or 2 months past a J&J vaccine should make a plan to get one or discuss with their doctor.https://t.co/bzfFfjKmTR pic.twitter.com/M2YfjEKz3p
— Bo Co Public Health (@bouldercohealth) November 8, 2021
It’s not clear if state officials’ announcement represents a shift in how they are approaching the fifth wave of the virus. In previous news conferences, health officials had emphasized that statewide measures like mask mandates weren’t necessary, because different regions were seeing varying levels of spread.
On the other hand, Gov. Jared Polis previously has downplayed some of the CDC’s more-restrictive guidance, including suggesting that older people who wanted extra protection simply claim to have compromised immune systems, which most providers would be unable to verify. And the state has sent text messages to vaccinated Coloradans telling them they’re due for booster shots regardless of whether they meet CDC guidance other than the time elapsed since their original immunization.
Under the existing CDC guidance, people who had received the Pfizer or Moderna shots and wanted a third dose had to have another qualifying characteristic, such as being over 65; having one of more than a dozen chronic conditions; or living or working in a high-risk setting. Anyone who got the Johnson & Johnson shot can either get a second J&J dose or switch to one of the other two brands for a booster.
Pfizer on Tuesday asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to expand eligibility for booster shots to all adults. The FDA would have to agree to expand the shots’ authorization, and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky would make the final call on the country’s booster policy.
The Biden administration had called for boosters for everyone over the summer, but backed off after experts pushed back. Now, more scientists are on board, as evidence has accumulated that protection from the vaccines wanes over time, and that most people experience about the same side effects they did from their original shots.