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Confusion continues over COVID booster eligibility after Colorado declared open to all

Colorado is allowing nearly all adults to receive COVID-19 booster shots, but that might not be clear when you try to sign up for an appointment, since many providers are still asking whether you’re at high risk or meet other prerequisites for the shots.

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Until last week, Colorado followed the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance on boosters, which were allowed for anyone who received the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot at least two months ago, or people who received their second Pfizer or Moderna shot six months ago and met one the following criteria:

  • Being at least 65 years old
  • Having a chronic condition that could increase the risk of severe COVID-19
  • Living in a high-risk environment (like a nursing home) or working in one (grocery stores, medical facilities and other frontline jobs)

On Thursday, Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order directing vaccine providers to give boosters to all adults who are far enough out from their completed vaccination series, saying that all of Colorado now is considered a high-risk environment for COVD-19.

As of Monday morning, King Soopers’ online scheduling system still flagged patients as ineligible if they checked that they weren’t in one of the groups authorized to get a booster shot, as did Walgreens’. A spokeswoman for Walgreens said their pharmacies would vaccinate anyone who checked off that they qualified.

CVS’ system noted that boosters are only approved for certain groups, with a link to the CDC’s guidance, but didn’t stop a younger person with no qualifying conditions from making an appointment. UCHealth also said Friday that it would take patients’ word.

“During the scheduling process for UCHealth, someone only needs to confirm that they meet eligibility guidelines, and then they can select from a range of locations and times,” spokesman Dan Weaver said.

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Kaiser Permanente didn’t ask people trying to schedule a booster dose why they qualified, but did ask them to “attest” that they are at high-risk because of their health or their environment. Under the state’s new guidance, any adult can attest to that once enough time has passed since their previous vaccine, spokesman Nicholas Roper said.

“We have been providing COVID-19 booster doses to anybody who qualifies as being in a high-risk group as defined by the CDC and will continue to do so,” he said in a statement. “The governor’s new executive order declares that the entire state of Colorado is high-risk for exposure or transmission of COVID-19.”

In practice, anyone who wanted a booster could claim to qualify, since providers couldn’t verify patients’ employment or health status. For weeks, Polis has encouraged everyone to get a booster, despite the more-limited guidance from the CDC. The state also sent texts alerting anyone who had received their shot at least six months ago that they might be eligible for a booster.

The question may become irrelevant in the near future, as more states expand eligibility. California followed Colorado in lifting almost all requirements on Thursday, with New Mexico and New York following on Friday and Monday, respectively.

The Biden administration is pushing for boosters for everyone, but the final decision would have to come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where scientists have expressed uncertainty the data supports that strategy, according to The Washington Post.

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