Denver Post reporter Alex Burness expressed a measure of guilt after accepting an early COVID vaccine from Gov. Polis.

In a Thursday newsletter, Burness questioned why young, healthy journalists should get access ahead of teachers and at-risk populations.

Still, part of me felt strange – flat-out wrong, even – accepting this golden ticket when there are so many people who need a vaccine more than I do. I’m young and healthy and can cover the legislature pretty well from home if need be.


Teachers can’t teach remotely when the kids are back in school. Prisoners can’t do much to protect themselves in their close quarters. What about older adults who barely leave their homes because they face such a heightened risk of death? Or other journalists – photographers, especially – who have to interact more regularly with the public than the Capitol press corps?


What sense does it make for me to have been vaccinated before my 85-year-old grandfather could even schedule his?

Polis announced in December a group of “frontline” journalists would be among the first to receive the bribe vaccine, ahead of high risk individuals and essential workers.

Polis’s shift in policy allowed reporters like Burness and the Colorado Sun’s Jesse Paul to get early access to the vaccine.

Former head of the Denver Press Club, David Milstead, slammed Paul by questioning the ethics of accepting such favors from the governor.

It is not clear whether any of the approximately 20 “frontline” journalists designated by the state have refused the vaccine on ethical grounds.

Polis’ ham-handed and unethical vaccine overture to the media follows a series of questions about his handling of the state’s COVID response.

Health experts have expressed alarm that prioritizing young, healthy individuals over the vulnerable could jeopardize confidence in broader vaccination efforts.

“It’s ultimately about who and what as a society do we value,” said former CDC Director Tom Frieden. “The key is to be completely transparent about the decision-making progress, because you aren’t going to maintain the public’s trust if it looks like people are jumping the line. When you’re in a situation of shortage like we’re in right now, you want to make sure that you don’t create even the appearance of impropriety.”


Others worry that if states define “essential workers” too broadly, it could mean months of delays for other priority groups, such as people with diabetes and other comorbidities.


“You risk not getting to people with bad health outcomes for a very long time,” Toner warned. “A lot of people with high risk could die while we’re vaccinating people who are lower risk.”

Polis announced earlier this week the state would prohibit counties from checking IDs at vaccination sites and instead rely on an “honors system” to determine eligibility.

While the guidance was marketed as an effort to encourage illegal immigrants to get vaccinated, experts say a lack of restrictions also make it easier for non-residents to game the system.

“I haven’t seen anything that’s going to say, ‘We’re going to stop people from gaming the system,’” said Jen Kates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, who said the state vaccination plans she’s reviewed have had no language on requiring patients to provide proof of residency, which would prevent people from hopping to another state with more available vaccine to try and get a shot.