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VP’s vaccination ‘gives people faith’ in science, Utah doctor says

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Vice President Mike Pence receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Washington. Karen Pence, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams also participated.

Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — When Vice President Mike Pence rolled up his sleeve and got vaccinated against COVID-19 on live TV Friday, he sent an important message about what it’s going to take to stop the spread of the virus responsible for the deadly coronavirus pandemic, a Utah doctor said.

“Seeing our leaders get vaccinated gives people faith in terms of the science and in terms of the safety of this vaccine. This pandemic has been highly politicized, so it’s great to see people on both sides of the aisle getting vaccinated in a public display,” said Intermountain Healthcare infectious disease specialist Dr. Eddie Stenehjem.

The same day the vice president drew new attention to the vaccine, Utah reported 2,644 new coronavirus cases and 14 more deaths. The rolling seven-day averages for positive tests is 2,494 per day, and the percent of positive laboratory tests is 22.12%.

Pence, wearing a mask, received the shot in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the White House Friday. Afterward, he declared “I didn’t feel a thing. Well done,” and called the Pfizer vaccine he received and the Moderna drug that was given final approval later in the day “a medical miracle.”

The vice president said he and his wife, second lady Karen Pence, “wanted to step forward and take this vaccine to assure the American people that while we cut red tape, we cut no corners” in speeding up the development of the vaccine from what usually takes eight to 12 years to just months.

“Thanks to the great work at the National Institutes of Health, and the great and careful work of the FDA and the leadership of our president and Operation Warp Speed, the American people can be confident we have one, and perhaps within hours, two safe and effective coronavirus vaccines for you and for your family,” Pence said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., both also received the vaccine on Friday.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney was vaccinated, too.

“The attending physician’s office has now informed all senators that for continuity of government purposes, we are to receive vaccinations, and that there is no reason to delay,” Romney, a Republican, said in a statement Friday.

“In accordance with this directive, I will receive the vaccine. I will also continue to wear a mask, practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings in line with public health guidance,” Romney said, later tweeting a photo of himself receiving a shot while wearing a mask.

Earlier this week, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, tweeted that he looks “forward to getting it after those most vulnerable and the heroic front line workers have the opportunity.”

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, also tweeted earlier this week about the vaccine, saying he has “full confidence and will gratefully take it when it’s my turn — after healthcare workers such as my wife Sue, and other essential workers who have made sacrifices and carried our country on their backs this year.”

Curtis told KSL Newsradio’s Lee Lonsberry Friday that it’s “a shame” the vaccine has become political.

“What could be more crazy than to get to this point and have the remedy, the cure, for this, and people not being willing to take it? It just adds to the craziness of this year,” Curtis said, adding that he’s encouraging people to be vaccinated because “there’s too much at stake not to do it.”

Fewer vaccine doses than expected are headed to Utah as part of the initial allocation, the Utah Department of Health said in a tweet Friday. A number of other states have already said they’ve been told their upcoming shipments would be reduced but federal officials have said that’s not correct.

“Like many other states, this afternoon we learned we will be receiving fewer doses of the Pfizer vaccine next week than we were planning for. 16,575 doses instead of the 23,400 we were planning for. Working now to figure out why,” the Utah health department tweet stated.

The first vaccine doses arrived in Utah Monday, at two Intermountain Healthcare hospitals, and the immunization of the most at-risk front-line health care workers there and at University of Utah Health began a day later. Both hospital systems publicized the first shots given to employees.

Stenehjem, who treats COVID-19 patients, said he was vaccinated Thursday.

“I’m feeling actually pretty well,” he told reporters during a virtual news conference, describing some muscle fatigue and tiredness, but not enough to keep him from shoveling snow Friday morning. He said his colleagues who have been vaccinated have not reported any serious side effects.

“From our standpoint, the reason that we wanted to be vocal about us being vaccinated is that we’re the people that know the most about the trials and the science behind this vaccine. We’ve looked under the hood. We’ve pored over the data,” Stenehjem said, and believe both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are safe.

“As a way to demonstrate that to people, we wanted to be very vocal and visual about us getting the vaccine. I certainly don’t want to take an unsafe vaccine and so if I thought it was unsafe, I wouldn’t take it. This is a safe and effective vaccine. I’m hoping this is one way for us to demonstrate our faith, and our faith in science.”

Even before the first of what will be two vaccine doses 21 days apart were administered, he said national surveys were showing an increase in the number of Americans who say they’ll be vaccinated, from about half of the country to around 70%.

Stenehjem said he hopes seeing people getting the shots will boost those numbers even more.

Utah reported a record 30 deaths Thursday from the coronavirus, the result of a pre-Thanksgiving surge in the state, Stenehjem said. While the state has not seen that rapid climb in cases from Thanksgiving, the doctor urged Utahns to avoid gatherings outside their homes over Christmas and other holidays in December and January.

That, combined with ramping up vaccinations to include nursing home patients and staff, then teachers, should help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the most vulnerable populations and ease the strain on already overcrowded hospitals as well as reduce the number of deaths.

The state has not yet spelled out who will get the vaccine after teachers.

But it could take months for the vaccine to be widely available so that enough Utahns can be vaccinated to reach the 70% threshold for herd immunity and stop the virus from spreading, Stenehjem said, calling between April and July “a realistic time frame.”

A total of 1,347 Utahns have received the vaccine as of Friday, nearly 1,000 more than the day before, according to the state. Currently, 539 people are hospitalized in the state with COVID-19 bringing the total number of hospitalizations since the outbreak began in March to 9,883.

There have been 246,562 positive COVID-19 cases in Utah and a total of 1,140 deaths. The deaths reported Friday are:

  • A Carbon County man, between the ages of 65 and 84. Officials said it was unknown if he was hospitalized when he died.
  • A Davis County woman, 65-84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • An Emery County man, 65-84, not hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, not hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, 65-84, and a long-term care facility resident.
  • Two Salt Lake County men, both between 65 and 84, one who was hospitalized and one who wasn’t.
  • A Salt Lake County woman, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • A Sanpete County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • A Utah County woman, 65-84, hospitalized.
  • A Washington County man,65-84, hospitalized.
  • A Weber County man, 45-64, hospitalized.
  • A Weber County woman, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
  • A Weber County woman, 45-64, not hospitalized.