SALT LAKE CITY — Hospital health care workers remain at the front of the line in Utah for the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine, followed by caregivers and patients at long-term care facilities at the end of December, the state’s immunization director, Rich Lakin, said Friday.
Teachers — added to the state’s priority list for the initial phase of vaccinations by Gov. Gary Herbert Thursday — likely won’t start receiving the first of two shots until early to mid-January, according to Lakin. He said he’s recommending police, firefighters, correctional officers, tribal communities and those 65 or older go next, in February or March.
The new details of Utah’s vaccination plan come as another 2,183 COVID-19 cases and nine new deaths were reported Friday in what officials called possibly “artificially low” tallies because of computer maintenance performed Thursday night.
But help is now on the way. Lakin said earlier this week that Utah hoped to receive the first of an initial allotment of 23,400 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine within 24 hours after Friday’s emergency use authorization by the U.S Food and Drug Administration.
Utah Department of Health spokesman Tom Hudachko said the first deliveries have been confirmed for Monday and Tuesday, with probably two more later in the week. Hudachko said the 23,400 doses should all arrive by the end of the week
Gov-elect Spencer Cox, currently Utah’s lieutenant governor, tweeted, “God bless everyone who made this miracle happen! #LetsGo,” in response to the news that the vaccine has been officially cleared by the federal government for distribution to the states.
Lakin said Utah is ready.
“For the month of December, most of the vaccine that we have allocated is going to hospitals,” he said, with long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living centers set to start getting doses beginning Dec. 28 through Walgreens and CVS drug stores as well as community nursing services.
“We’ve got so many health care workers that we’re vaccinating in December and part of January, and long-term care facility staff and residents, that we’re going to have to kind of spread this vaccine around,” he said, adding there will be overlap between when the different groups get shots.
The state is looking for a total of 154,600 doses through the end of the year, Lakin said. The first 23,400 doses will be sent out to 15 hospitals through Dec. 22, he said, with another 75,875 doses due the week of Dec. 20 also earmarked for hospitals.
The next week’s batch of approximately 55,125 doses, Lakin said, will start going out to the long-term care facilities.
Depending on how much vaccine the state has at that point, tribal and local health officials could also begin receiving doses for nonhospital health care workers. All of the vaccine distributed at that point will be for the first of two doses, given 21 days apart.
Teachers are the next priority, and then protective services, tribal communities and older Utahns if Lakin’s recommendations are followed. After that, “the water gets a little muddy at that point because it’s very difficult to start defining who an essential worker is,” he said.
His hope is that instead of continuing the priority list, vaccines could just be made available to all Utahns after the highest-risk groups are vaccinated.
“It could very well open up at that point because I think we will have plenty of vaccine,” Lakin said.
A number of industries, including meatpacking, restaurants, airlines and utilities, are already lobbying federal and state officials to be prioritized for vaccines because their services are essential to the economy and workers are at high risk of contracting the virus, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
While the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended front-line health care workers and nursing home residents should get the first doses followed by workers deemed essential to providing basic services, the decisions are ultimately up to state governors.
Unlike Utah, some other states, including Colorado, are holding off on vaccinating school teachers and staff until the vaccine is more widely available in the spring. Herbert said at his weekly briefly Thursday he wants to have “as safe an environment for our students and our teachers as we can” to minimize disruptive school closures.
Cox, who takes office at the start of the new year, said at the briefing that the focus is on ensuring the vaccine isn’t “sitting on shelves in hospitals or pharmacies. We will be working very closely with our distribution partners around the clock to get these vaccines out and get them again in people’s arms as quickly as we possibly can.”
The governor-elect acknowledged “these are very difficult decisions, determining who gets what. We’re very excited for the opportunity to elevate teachers because we do know the impacts of this pandemic aren’t just on the health side,” but also on education.
Lakin is counting on Utahns to wait their turn for the vaccine.
“For myself, I’m a 54-year old male who can work from home. I don’t have any health conditions so I’m not jumping the line. I’ll be last to get it because I’m not necessarily in a high-risk group,” he said. “We just ask people that they be honest and understand the reason we are vaccinating these first ones is that they’re most likely to be exposed.”
Friday, the Utah Department of Health said an additional 11,335 people tested for the novel coronavirus since Thursday and the rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 2,702 per day. The seven-day average for the percent of laboratory tests that are positive is at 26%.
A new, automated contact tracing system launched Friday sends a text to Utahns who have tested positive but have not responded to calls from the health department. Those with the virus are asked to fill out a survey that includes questions about any known contact with someone already infected as well types of places they’ve been.
Utah currently has 568 people hospitalized with the virus, raising the total number of people hospitalized in the state since the pandemic began in March to 9,269. There have been a total of 228,129 positive cases of the virus reported in Utah.
Friday’s death toll brings the total number of Utahns who have died from COVID-19 to 1,025. The state passed the grim milestone of 1,000 deaths on Thursday, and is projected to double that number by mid-February, according to University of Washington researchers.
The latest deaths reported are:
• A Utah County man, between 45 and 64, not hospitalized at time of death.
• A Uintah County woman, between 65 and 84, not hospitalized at time of death.
• A Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, hospitalized at time of death.
• A Salt Lake County man, between 65 and 84, long-term care facility resident.
• A Sevier County man, older than 85, not hospitalized.
• A Washington County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized.
• A Salt Lake County man, between 45 and 64, not hospitalized.
• A Salt Lake County woman and a man, both between 65 and 84, both long-term care facility residents.