SALT LAKE CITY — There is nothing easy about a COVID-19 vaccine.

The latest challenge? States must submit a plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by Friday outlining how they will distribute a vaccine to their residents quickly and efficiently. Yet a vaccine has yet to be approved, there is no delivery date, and it must be given in a way that both ensures pandemic precautions and meets vaccine ultra-cold storage requirements.

It’s an exhausting task and one that has taken a work group of more than two dozen Utah government and public health officials several months to start configuring. Utah’s 13 public health districts are also developing their own plans to address distribution within their regions.

“There’s nothing comparable to what we’re dealing with now,” Rich Lakin, immunization program manager for the Utah Department of Health, said. “We’ve never done this large of a campaign. There will be bumps in the road as we do this, because we’re learning as we go, learning (about) the vaccine.”

Nicole England, a registered nurse with Community Nursing Services, prepares a flu vaccination during a drive through-thru clinic in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct 6, 2020. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
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Here’s what we know:

  • The state’s vaccine plan will likely be revised six or seven times, as officials learn more about a potential vaccine, because as Lakin has said, “the vaccine drives the response.”
  • The federal government asked states to be ready to distribute a vaccine by Nov. 1, which is what Utah is doing. However, Lakin also expected the state will not receive any vaccine until the end of December or first of January. (The CEO of Moderna, whose vaccine is one of the U.S.’s frontrunners, recently said Nov. 25 would be the soonest its vaccine could be available for emergency use authorization for essential employees, and the company wouldn’t seek FDA approval for a public-wide vaccine until early 2021.)
  • Whenever a vaccine becomes available, the first doses will be limited, likely sent to the four major hospitals on the Wasatch Front with the greatest number of COVID-19 patients, said Lakin: University of Utah Hospital and LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, Intermountain Medical Center in Murray and Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo.
  • Hospitals don’t expect 100% vaccine acceptance among staff, said Kristin Dascomb, medical director, infection prevention and employee health at Intermountain Healthcare, so they’re creating extremely detailed priority groups to ensure that once they have vaccinated the top priority tiers they can pull in other tiers to avoid any vaccine waste.
  • Big chain pharmacies will play a major role in the vaccination process, especially with vaccinating long-term care residents and eventually the general public, said Lakin.
  • State officials will work with the 13 public health departments to ensure they get needed doses for high-priority groups, and then later, larger quantities for everyone else — most likely in the spring or summer of 2021. (For those interested in helping with mass vaccination clinics, click here to volunteer with the state’s Medical Reserve Corps, even if you don’t have a medical background.)
  • Click through to see what each public health department is working on, and where you could expect to get a vaccine in your area:
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