Less than one month after publicly reversing course on his administration’s plan to provide scarce, life-saving vaccines to young, healthy incarcerated criminals before Colorado’s aged and infirm population, Gov. Jared Polis and the Department of Public Health and Environment have found a new group to favor over those most at-risk for death from COVID-19: legislators and executive branch officials.

I ask for a second time in as many months: what the hell is Polis doing?

On Dec. 9, Polis and his science-driven health department unveiled what was inaptly billed as Colorado’s “finalized” vaccination plan. In unequivocal Polis style, he stated “the moral path for society to take is to protect those far and away more likely to lose their lives to the virus.” Strong, smart words. Polis got even more specific: “Our main focus in creating a plan for Colorado is to ensure that we save the most lives … that means, of course, prioritizing our most at risk 65 and up, people with pre-existing conditions …” A CDPHE-generated, color-coordinated visual display of the three phases said the same.

A mere three weeks later, on the Wednesday between Christmas and New Year’s Day, an extra “finalized” version of Colorado’s plan revealed different priorities. Now, appearing in Phase 1B, in the same category as EMS, police, firefighters, health care workers, and Coloradans 70 and older, Polis has added “essential officials from executive, legislative … branches of state government.”

You read that correctly — the moral obligation to prioritize Coloradans who are 65 or who are immunocompromised is now secondary to prioritizing the protection of legislators and other yet-undefined “essential officials” from Polis’ administration.

CDPHE has thus far failed to tell those who Polis once described as “most at-risk” which politicians and political appointees have jumped the line in front of them for the scarce vaccine. Who is an “official?” What makes them “essential” and who decides who meets that definition? Does CDPHE pick, or do the state officials themselves? Neither Polis nor CDPHE has said.

Even if we consumed enough edibles to entertain the argument that legislators and Polis’ administration should be prioritized ahead of the scientifically and statistically-proven “most at-risk” Coloradans, why are county and local government “essential workers” kicked to a later phase than state politicians and appointees? What science and data are guiding these life-impacting decisions?

CDPHE defends its brand new prioritization of “individuals who are essential to the continuity of state government” as aligning “with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which defines essential workers, in part, as those who preserve services essential to the COVID-19 response and overall functioning of society.” Unfortunately, ACIP’s December 2020 recommendations for vaccine allocation says no such thing. In fact, ACIP prioritizes only “frontline essential workers” ahead of 65-year-olds and those with high-risk medical conditions.

ACIP defines “all other essential workers” to include only those who “support ongoing critical infrastructure operations.” The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) provides a detailed 21-page document entitled “Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce” to further guide state and local governments in identifying these positions.

Neither ACIP’s or CISA’s detailed analysis and overly inclusive list of occupations include legislators, executive branch “officials” or any other politically connected people.

Polis’ and CDPHE’s newfound haste to protect the politically-connected is as novel as the coronavirus itself. It appears nowhere in any prior versions of CDPHE’s vaccine plan. In addition, of the six states bordering Colorado, none prioritize legislators and executive branch officials ahead of the “most at-risk” in their published vaccine plans. Not even the “inmates-first” National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) or the World Health Organization (WHO) do that. For those keeping track, CDC, ACIP, NASEM, WHOI and all six states bordering Colorado refuse to give special vaccine priority to legislative and executive officials.

Only Polis and CDPHE do that.

What in the wide, wide world of science-based decision-making is going on? Admittedly, it makes more sense to vaccinate prison inmates before legislators and executive branch officials.

The normally-reliable COVID-19 frontline journalists have inexplicably failed to scrutinize this offensive shift in vaccine prioritization or to pursue answers to any of the most basic questions about it.

Coincidentally, CDPHE’s new plan also jumps “essential frontline journalists” (also undefined) ahead of the Coloradans Polis once described as “most at-risk.”

If this unjustifiable plan remains in place, Coloradans should demand to know which taxpayer-funded “officials” and legislators were deemed more essential than the immunocompromised or 60-69 year old Coloradans in our community who will wait to be vaccinated.

Presumably, the next group to be advanced to the front of the line will be professional athletes, movie stars, and social media influencers. Stay tuned.

George H. Brauchler is the district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, which includes Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. Follow him @GeorgeBrauchler.

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