Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday urged all Coloradans who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 to get booster shots as soon as possible, warning that the virus’s fast-spreading omicron variant will soon become the dominant strain in the state.

So far, health officials have confirmed five cases of the omicron variant in Colorado, including one they believe represents the first evidence of community spread of the new strain. Colorado’s initial omicron cases were identified in people who’d recently returned from Africa.

State public health officials previously had said wastewater surveillance led them to believe the new variant already was spreading in Boulder.

“We’re fortunate to have these safe and effective vaccines, and we now face a new threat with the omicron variant,” Polis said during a news conference at a community vaccination clinic in Aurora. “…It’s only a matter of time til it becomes the prevalent variant here in Colorado as it has in every other place it’s been.”

Polis stressed that the initial vaccine sequence — two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or one shot of Johnson & Johnson — is “not enough to protect against omicron.” He said Coloradans who have received booster shots are 47 times less likely to be hospitalized than unvaccinated people in the state.

“Don’t wait. Get boosted,” he said. “Omicron is coming. The booster works. You need to have three courses of the vaccine to have a high level of protection.”

Nearly 69% of eligible Coloradans are fully vaccinated, and 43.5% of the vaccinated population also has received a booster shot, according to state data.

The state this week observed a tragic milestone with the recording of more than 10,000 deaths due to COVID-19. But as preparations are made for omicron, Colorado’s virus situation has been improving in recent weeks, with new cases, hospitalizations and the percentage of tests coming back positive all falling.

As of Wednesday, 1,227 people were hospitalized across the state with COVID-19, the lowest number since Oct. 31. Currently, 86% of COVID-19 patients in Colorado hospitals are unvaccinated, according to state data.

Polis noted that if people seeking boosters are finding long waits for appointments at pharmacies or medical offices, the state is running nine mass vaccination sites — mostly along the Front Range — for first, second and third shots for adults and children.

Appointments are available, but aren’t required — the locations take walk-in traffic.

They’re located at:

  • Arapahoe Community College: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
  • Aurora Municipal Center: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
  • Chapel Hills Mall, Colorado Springs: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily
  • Citadel Mall, Colorado Springs: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday
  • Douglas County Fairgrounds: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
  • La Plata County Fairgrounds: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday
  • Pueblo Mall: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
  • Weld County Clerk and Recorder building, Greeley: 8:30 a.m. to 6:10 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 12:30-4:30 p.m. Wednesday; 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday

“It is very important for all those who are eligible to be vaccinated,” Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman said at the news conference with Polis. “To help protect yourself. To help protect your family. To help protect your co-workers. And to help protect our community.”

Much still remains unknown about the omicron variant, but increasingly officials are warning that at the very least it appears more transmissible than the delta variant, which was already putting pressure on hospitals from the United States to the Netherlands.

Globally, more than 75 countries have reported confirmed cases of the new variant. In Britain, where omicron cases are doubling every two to three days, the variant is expected to soon replace delta as the dominant strain in the country — and the government has accelerated its booster program in response. Authorities in the 27-nation European Union say omicron will be the dominant variant in the bloc by mid-January.

In addition to hints that it’s more contagious, early data suggest omicron may be milder but better at evading vaccines — making booster shots more crucial. Experts have urged caution in particular on drawing conclusions about how mild it is because hospitalizations lag behind infections and so many variables contribute to how sick people get.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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