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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced on Monday that everyone in the state 16 and older will be eligible for a coronavirus vaccine starting on Friday, weeks earlier than initially planned.

The state had been planning to open vaccine eligibility to the general public starting in mid-April. Colorado will join at least 12 other states across the country that have already expanded eligibility to the general population or will do so by the end of the week.

“This is a really important step that Colorado is taking,” Polis said.

The expanded eligibility comes as spread of more-contagious coronavirus variants is increasing across the state, giving urgency to the race between the virus and the vaccination campaign. It also comes as measures of control over the virus, like mask wearing and social distancing, have declined and more than two dozen Colorado counties have moved to the lowest level of coronavirus restrictions.

Mathematical models have suggested Colorado could see another surge in cases if control over the virus drops too quickly without vaccines keeping pace — leading to higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.

Colorado entered Phase 1b.4 of its vaccine distribution plan on March 19, opening up inoculations to an estimated 2.5 million people, including those 50 and older and a wide array of essential workers

Children under the age of 16 will be the only population group in the state ineligible for vaccination starting on Friday. Clinical trials in kids are underway for several of the vaccines currently approved only for adults. It could take until the end of this year or early next year before those trials are completed and shots are authorized for children.

As of Monday, more than 1.58 million Coloradans had received at least a first dose of coronavirus vaccine. More than 950,000 Coloradans were considered fully immunized. 

Just because all Coloradans 16 and older will be eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine starting on Friday does not mean millions of people will be able to access an inoculation immediately. State health officials expect the distribution process for the general public to take weeks.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

This content was originally published here.