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DENVER (KDVR) — UCHealth is now offering COVID-19 booster shots for people in Colorado’s vaccine phases 1A and 1B.1, including health care workers, people age 70 and older and first responders.

Dr. Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention at UCHealth, is among the staff to receive the third shot so far.

“I don’t know the exact number but it’s quite a few. I think it speaks to the number of people wanting to get that extra protection,” Barron said.

U.S. health officials announced earlier this month plans to offer COVID-19 booster shots to all eligible Americans in an effort to ramp up protection as the delta variant surges. Officials set the goal of making boosters available by Sept. 20. They said the Food and Drug Administration and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel would have to evaluate the safety of the dose first.

The CDC is currently in discussions about the booster. Barron said UCHealth evaluated the data independently before deciding to offer the shots.

“We discussed at length with our medical advisory group regarding what’s the risk-benefit ratio: Is there any potential harm in giving it sooner rather than waiting another month? We didn’t see any major risk and only potential benefit in terms of preservation of our staff,” Barron said.

Rising hospital rates played a major role in the decision, Barron said. On Monday, UCHealth recorded 253 COVID-19 patients — their highest number since early January.

“Making sure we have enough people that aren’t out with COVID — even if it’s really mild COVID — they’re out for 10 days. With our hospital rates just continuing to rise, preservation of our staff is a really big priority,” said Barron.

U.S. health officials are aiming to administer boosters about eight months after initial doses. Many healthcare workers are already in that timeframe.

Barron said scheduling booster shot appointments will not interfere with anyone trying to book their first COVID vaccination.

“We made sure that we still had the ability to give slots that were already allotted for primary doses. Delta is not going away anytime soon. COVID will be with us for a while. If you have not gotten your first set of shots — the time is now,” Barron said.