SALT LAKE CITY — The day hospitals in Utah started vaccinating caregivers against COVID-19 was one for the record books, according to the pharmaceutical supply manager at University of Utah Hospital.

“It was the best day of work I’ve ever had,” Russell Findlay told the Deseret News. He said it felt like “the deliverer of hope.”

“There’s been so much anxiety and uncertainty over the last nine months or so and this was a feeling that we’re turning a corner,” Findlay said, adding that there is a lot of excitement among his colleagues at U. Health.

People witnessing the first vaccinations on Tuesday cheered and some cried tears of joy, he said.

“It was a day of hope.”

The hospital has since vaccinated about 200 caregivers, including physicians, nurses and staff working within units where COVID-19 patients are being treated. They have been deemed at the highest risk for exposure to the virus, Findlay said.

He expects that when they get up and rolling, they’ll be able to vaccinate up to 900 people per day and reach everyone within their health system sometime in February, if everything goes as planned.

“It’s nothing short of a miracle — it’s a remarkably effective vaccine,” he said, adding that the development and innovation that led to the vaccine is “remarkable.”

“Vaccines often take years to develop,” Findlay said. “It’s a quantum leap in vaccine technology.”

In addition to its quick approval, the arrival of the vaccine gave a lot of Utah caregivers, like Findlay, the bump they needed to keep going.

U. Health has about 17,000 staff and 2,000 students within their system of caregivers, which would require about 38,000 doses of the vaccine to reach full efficacy.

In addition to University of Utah Hospital, which has the ability to store the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that requires an ultralow-temperature freezer, Intermountain Healthcare’s LDS Hospital, Intermountain Medical Center, Utah Valley Hospital and Dixie Regional Medical Center have also begun administering the vaccine.

“So far, so good,” said Joe Frandsen, who is heading up Intermountain’s vaccine program. Of the 80 people vaccinated on Tuesday, he said, none have reported any adverse effects.

Interest from caregivers has increased after reports of the vaccine’s high efficacy, Frandsen said, adding that appointments for prioritized caregivers have filled quickly.

Intermountain’s Logan Regional, Alta View, McKay-Dee and Cassia Regional in Burley, Idaho, should receive their shipments of the Pfizer vaccine shortly. Riverton and other hospitals throughout Utah are awaiting approval of the Moderna vaccine, as it does not require specialized storage. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which obtained the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization last week, must be stored at negative 70 degrees Celsius.

“We have processes in place to go about as fast as the CDC and Pfizer and Moderna can get us supply,” Frandsen said on Wednesday. He said that Intermountain anticipates using its current allotment of vaccines by the end of the year and then plans to vaccinate the highest risk caregivers over the next six months as more vaccines become available.

“We’re really optimistic right now,” Frandsen said. “Things seem to be coming together nicely.”

The number of vaccines administered in Utah is anticipated to be updated daily on the state’s website, coronavirus.utah.gov, along with other COVID-19 data, the Utah Department of Health reported on Wednesday. Hospitals in Utah have, so far, received 9,750 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, which is just a portion of the number ordered.

Findlay praised the many dedicated professionals, caregivers and staff who have “risen to the occasion” to treat the rampant illness within the community. He said various committees spent a lot of time preparing for and prioritizing how the vaccine would be administered.

One thing is clear, however, Findlay said there’s a lot of interest in the vaccine, both internally at the hospital and in the public.

“A lot of people are anxious to get the vaccine,” he said. “For right now, we all agree the benefits far exceed the risks.”

Infection wave continues

The surge in new cases seemed to be slowing slightly earlier this week, with daily reported numbers nearly half of what they were weeks ago in Utah. The entire state, however, is still exhibiting high transmission levels.

The surge continued with another 2,928 cases of COVID-19 reported in Utah on Wednesday by the health department. Another 19 people reportedly have died because of the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well, bringing the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 1,096 lives lost.

There are 556 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 throughout Utah and more than 1.6 million people have been tested for the virus. The growing number of people being treated has only increased the risk of exposure for overworked hospital staff.

The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 2,600 per day, with the average for percent of positive laboratory tests is 23.02%.

As of Tuesday, Utah had the ninth-highest percent positivity rating in the country, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The deaths reported Wednesday include:

  • Four Salt Lake County men, all older than 85, two who were hospitalized when they died and one who was a resident at a long-term health care facility.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, a resident at a long-term health care facility.
  • Two Salt Lake County men between 65 and 84, one who was hospitalized and another a resident at a long-term health care facility.
  • Two Salt Lake County women between the ages of 65 and 84, one a health care facility resident.
  • A Salt Lake County man, 45-64, who was hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County man, 25-44, who was hospitalized.
  • A Davis County man between 65 and 84 who was hospitalized.
  • A Utah County man, 65-84, who was hospitalized.
  • Two Utah County men, both 45-64, one who was hospitalized and one at a long-term health care facility.
  • A Utah County woman, 25-44, who was hospitalized.
  • A Wasatch County man, older than 85, a resident at a long-term health care facility.
  • A Washington County woman, 65-84, who was hospitalized.
  • A Weber County man, older than 85, who was hospitalized.

New COVID-19 cases reported on Wednesday by health district:

  • Salt Lake County, 975
  • Utah County, 529
  • Davis County, 345
  • Southwest Utah, 277
  • Weber-Morgan, 183
  • Bear River, 196
  • Central Utah, 112
  • Summit County, 52
  • Tooele County, 49
  • TriCounty (Uinta Basin), 39
  • Wasatch County, 33
  • Southeast Utah, 27
  • San Juan County, 11