Colorado has hit yet another new high in daily COVID-19 diagnoses: 1,312, Gov. Jared Polis said at a Friday press conference, where he announced that the state was submitting its vaccination distribution plan to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
We are "very concerned," Polis said of the latest record, adding that hospitalizations currently sit at 352, up from nearly 220 two weeks ago. COVID-related hospitalizations in the state this week are the highest they've been since May.
While the number doesn't currently threaten hospital capacity, if one "extrapolates the same trend over the next few weeks, we could be in trouble ... next month," Polis said.
Polis had previously said hospital capacity could be threatened as early as December, with a fourth, holiday gatherings-induced wave of the virus forecasted atop a current third wave that might not dip, as health officials were hoping, before the next wave ensues.
Nearly 80% of hospital ICU and acute-care beds in the state are currently in use; more than a third of adult critical care ventilators are in use, according to state data. Nearly 20% of pediatric critical-care ventilators are in use.
The percent positivity rate of those tested continues to sit at just over 5% in Colorado, Polis said. On Monday, the rate reached 6.4%. The World Health Organization recommended in the spring that communities wait to reopen until the rate was were under 5%.
While the state was set to submit its vaccine distribution plan to the feds Friday, "to be clear, there is not yet a vaccine that is safe and effective," Polis emphasized.
The state received $3.1 million in funding from the CDC to help with COVID-19 vaccine planning and implementation, according to a Friday press release from the state. Most of the funds will be allocated to local public health agencies and the two tribal nations in the state, the release stated.
The state hopes to pursue emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in late November to distribute the vaccine — with health care workers, first responders and residents of long-term care facilities and nursing homes receiving first priority, he said.
But even if a vaccine does become available in late November, it doesn't mean it will be widely available, Polis cautioned before emphasizing the importance of continued social-distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing and limiting gathering sizes.
"The world doesn't transform overnight when there's a vaccine that works," he said.
It could take up to a year for a vaccine to be distributed widely, a Friday press release from the governor's office stated.
After the prioritized populations receive the first rounds of vaccines, those living in congregate housing, essential workers with direct interaction with the public and at-risk populations will be served next, said Jill Hunsaker-Ryan, executive director of the state health department.
The vaccine will then be available to the general population, becoming more widely available at pharmacies and community health clinics before being incorporated into routine vaccination programs, she added.
That's the plan, anyway, Polis said — "and if 2020 has taught us anything, it's that the best made plans are just that: plans."
Potential factors that could complicate logistics of the distribution of the vaccine: Two of the four vaccines in phase-three clinical trials require two doses given a number of days apart, and one of them needs to be transported in liquid nitrogen at -70 degrees, officials said.
How long immunity from the vaccine might lasts "simply will not be known at this point," said Eric France, chief medical officer of the state health department.
Whether or not the vaccine make herd immunity possible depends on both the rate of virus transmission and how effective the vaccine is, France said.
"In some scenarios you might need a 100% vaccination rate, but that never really happens," he said. "Maybe if you hit 50% [vaccination rate] and [the transmission rate] is managed, and you have a good, efficacious vaccine, that will be enough to get us where we have herd immunity."
On Friday the CEO of Pfizer Inc. said that the company cannot request emergency authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine before the third week of November — and that’s if everything goes well.
Despite President Donald Trump’s repeated promises of a vaccine before Election Day, scientists have been cautioning that it’s unlikely.
Another leading U.S. contender, Moderna Inc., previously announced the earliest it could seek authorization of its own vaccine would be Nov. 25.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has long said it's possible testing might reveal by the end of October if his company’s vaccine actually protects against the coronavirus. But in Friday’s announcement, he made clear that effectiveness is only part of the equation.
The vaccine also must be proven safe. And to qualify for an “emergency use authorization,” any COVID-19 vaccine must track at least half the participants in large-scale studies for two months after their second dose, the time period in which side effects are likely to appear.
Bourla estimated Pfizer's 44,000-person study will reach that milestone in the third week of November.
“We are operating at the speed of science,” he wrote in a letter posted to the company’s website.
The vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech are among several leading candidates in final testing.
Also on Friday, federal health officials unveiled a plan to get yet-to-be-approved coronavirus vaccines to nursing home residents free of charge, enlisting two national pharmacy chains to help.
Under the voluntary program, trained staff from CVS and Walgreens would deliver the vaccines to each nursing home and administer shots. Assisted-living facilities and residential group homes can also participate. Nursing home staffers can be vaccinated, too, if they have not already received their shots. Needles, syringes and other necessary equipment will be included.
The idea is to give hard-pressed states an all-inclusive system for vaccinating their most vulnerable residents, said Paul Mango, a senior policy adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services. “We are trying to eliminate all potential barriers to getting folks safe and effective vaccines,” Mango said.
Counting nursing homes and other kinds of group residences, the nation has more than 22,000 such facilities.
People in nursing homes and other long-term care settings account for less than 1% of the U.S. population, but they represent about 40% of the deaths from COVID-19, with more than 83,600 fatalities logged by the COVID Tracking Project.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.