As COVID patients dominate hospitals, Polis mulls emergency measures, readies for vaccine distribution to kids age 5-11

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DENVER | Colorado COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization — chiefly among unvaccinated residents — have claimed so many hospital beds that the state is imposing at least one targeted emergency protocol and considering more to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by pandemic victims, Gov. Jared Polis said Thursday. 

Among a handful of possible new regulations and policies, the state will immediately make monoclonal antibody infusions available to sickened COVID patients at five mobile clinics across the state.

State health officials said COVID-19-related hospitalizations are at some of the highest numbers since the beginning of the pandemic and have risen steadily over the past two weeks.

Other potential restrictions include limiting or postponing elective surgeries and working with hospitals and providers to triage patients to ration overloaded medical resources.

While Polis said the state was not imposing those restrictions now, it could invoke one or more “tools” over the next several days or weeks if COVID-related hospitalizations increase.

At the same time, the state is gearing up to provide COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 through 11 as vaccine approval for that age group rolls out over the next several days.

Federal officials have pushed ahead on sanctioning the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11. Final approval is expected within days.

Polis emphasized that local and national pediatricians insist the vaccine is safe and effective in children.

State officials say the vaccine would be distributed to children in reduced doses, using targeted measuring devices and systems, adding that the vaccine could be available to children under 11 as early as Nov. 5, if expected approvals stay on track.

Colorado health officials said they hope to inoculate about half of those young children eligible by the end of January.

While Polis laid out how the state will next combat the pandemic as hospitalizations and infections rise, he did not say that additional vaccine mandates or closures were being considered.

State health officials joining Polis at a press conference Thursday said the high rate of hospitalizations and continued spread of the pandemic are attributed to unvaccinated residents.

Since July, as the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus became dominant in Colorado, 31 people under age 40 have died from the disease, only one person was vaccinated. That man was seriously ill with a terminal disease, Polis said.

Older residents vaccinated also show vastly reduced rates of death and serious illness when infected with the coronavirus.

The federal government has allocated an initial 171,000 doses of the pediatric vaccine to Colorado, which will be enough to vaccinate 30% of the children’s population with a single dose, said Diana Herrero, deputy director for the state health department’s Division of Disease Control and Public Health Response.

There are nearly 480,000 eligible children in this age group in Colorado, Herrero said.

Pediatric vaccines will be available at more than 380 clinic locations statewide. The state has also partnered with different organizations to hold November and December vaccine events where they will offer pediatric doses, adult doses and booster shots, Herrero said.

Pfizer’s vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 is one-third of the dose given to teens and adults. A study of the kid-size dose found two shots given three weeks apart proved nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic infection with only mild temporary side effects — such as sore arms, fever or achiness.

The full-strength shots occasionally cause an extremely rare side effect, heart inflammation, that occurs mostly in young men and teen boys after the second dose. There’s no way to tell if the smaller doses for younger kids might trigger the rare side effect.

A physician from Children’s Hospital Colorado said he has treated young patients with heart problems caused by COVID-19 complications, and that the risk of such complications are exponentially greater for children contracting COVID than those taking the vaccine.

Polis said the state is offering all school districts partnerships with the state to host on-site vaccine clinics where they can get parent permission slips and inoculate their student populations.

Polis and others hammered on research showing how effective the vaccine is at preventing or reducing illness caused by the virus, and that as the coronavirus passes through virtually everyone on the planet, almost everyone will eventually be exposed.

“You’re going to get it,” Polis said. “You want to be vaccinated when you get it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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