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Colorado will open up its vaccine priority to every resident by mid-April, Gov. Jared Polis announced Friday, weeks ahead of the state’s original schedule.

Initially, the state’s distribution plan would have opened up eligibility to the general public this summer. That timetable has been moved up slowly in recent weeks as vaccine supply has improved. When doses were first distributed here in December, the state was receiving fewer than 50,000 doses a week. National Guard Brig. General Scott Sherman said Friday that the state would begin receiving a half-million doses a week by mid-April.

“We’ve been told by the CDC that in the next 10 weeks, the U.S. will be receiving 200 million doses,” Sherman said at a press conference Friday. “For Colorado, that means over 3.4 million doses that we’ll be receiving in the next 10 weeks.”

If the state ultimately receives half a million doses per week starting in a month, it’ll have doubled its current supply.

Polis said the state will release a firmer date for general public eligibility in the coming days.

The announcement comes days after President Joe Biden said he wants all Americans to be eligible by May 1. Polis said the state will be two weeks ahead of that and even ahead of his own previous projections, which estimated late April to early May. Polis and Sherman have previously said that each phase takes several weeks.

Polis said that the state expects that all Coloradans who want to be vaccinated can have done so between mid-May and mid-June. That, he said, will give Colorado a relatively normal summer and hopefully a strong tourism season. 

In recent weeks, Polis has said he doesn’t expect a “majority” of Coloradans to be wearing face masks come the summer, an early indication that his mask mandate, which has been in place for nearly a year, is nearing its end. He has also said Colorado will monitor the situation in Wyoming, which ended its mask mandate recently. But he has stressed the state here will follow the science and not rush to end required masking.

Prior to the general public, the state will open its next priority group — its largest group yet — on March 19. That would include those with certain pre-existing conditions, those over the age of 50 and a large group of essential frontline workers. But even before that group opens next week, Polis said, the state will have opened up eligibility to half of the state’s population. The March 19 group will number as many as 2.5 million, said Scott Bookman, the state’s COVID-19 incident commander.

The state is essentially at its maximum capability for distributing vaccines right now, Polis and Sherman said, via the conventional means of hospitals, pharmacies and public health agencies. To further scale up to distribute millions of doses in the coming months, the state will open up six sites, which Polis said will be open for a “six to 12 week period.”

Those six sites are:

“Frankly, it’s the best problem to have,” he said. “It means we have more vaccine and we need to distribute more so we can get it more into arms.”

Though the pool of eligible Coloradans continues to grow, Polis and Bookman said that vaccine providers will still have the ability to give priority to previous groups, like older Coloradans. The state pushed heavily to inoculate those 70 and older in February, and now more than three quarters of that population has been vaccinated. Polis said that they would continue to receive priority moving forward.

Other previous priority groups — educators and those between the age of 65 and 69 — have both met their target goals, Sherman said. Roughly 90% of educators have been inoculated as of a week ago, well over the 75% goal. More than 55% of those 65-and-up have also received their jabs. That latter number is still too low, however, to hit the general target for herd immunity, which is a minimum of 70% statewide.

Because of the significant vaccination efforts in the state’s long-term care facilities, where the vast majority of residents have been inoculated, health officials “anticipate updating our guidance (in the coming days), which will be allowing significantly more indoor visitation.” 

Up until now, many of the eligible groups have been highly incentivized to be vaccinated. More than 90% of health care workers have been inoculated, which is roughly how many long-term care residents have received their first and second doses. But subsequent groups have had slower uptakes — 76% of those over 70% and even fewer of those 65 to 69. The upcoming eligibility increase — first through this upcoming phase and then into the general public — raises the prospect of more vaccine hesitancy.

“Right now, we have the problem of demand exceeding supply,” Polis said when asked about hesitancy. “That will change soon, it’ll change in late April or early May. At some point in April or May, supply will exceed demand.”

He said potentially slow uptake can be addressed by making doses as accessible and convenient as possible. The state will also begin using “aggressive communication efforts,” and he said he hopes that as more people are inoculated and the safety and efficacy of the doses is further demonstrated, that will have a positive effect on hesitancy statewide.

He said the state will have to focus on “culturally relevant outreach” to ensure that minority communities — which have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic — feel comfortable in receiving the vaccine.

This content was originally published here.