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COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Utah is slower than anticipated

Another 21 deaths reported Wednesday

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Shixian Wang, a pharmacist with Red Rock Pharmacy, fills a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at The Ridge Foothill senior living facility in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The initial rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has been slower than anticipated in Utah, state health officials reported on Wednesday.

The state has administered 23,970 vaccines, but because of a 24-hour reporting window from hospitals, health departments and other partners who are giving the vaccines, the actual number of people who have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine is higher, said Rich Lakin, Utah Department of Health Immunization Program director.

It’s about 20% of the 125,425 vaccines that have been shipped to Utah.

The state started vaccinating nonhospital health care workers this week and local health departments, which are familiar with immunizing on a large scale, are helping to increase the speed at which people are getting access to the much-anticipated vaccine.

“Because we have less of the vaccine, it is pushing the timeline back a bit,” Lakin said. The state will soon be offering the COVID-19 vaccine to tens of thousands of teachers, who were singled out as a priority group early in December.

“We are starting to see this vaccine roll out a lot quicker,” he added.

The truth of the matter is that the federal government has sent 40% fewer doses than the state initially asked for, leaving hospitals, clinics and some pharmacies unable to meet the demand. There’s also up to a week of lag time between when a vaccine is shipped to when it is reported.

“There’s a lot of issues outside of my control,” Lakin said, adding that he’s working to make it a quicker process.

“The last thing we want is vaccine to go bad,” he said.

Health care workers who were among the first Utahns to get the first doses will be getting their second/booster doses next week, Lakin reported.

An additional 6,500 people in Utah got their first dose of the vaccine in the past two days, he said, adding that distribution is happening much quicker now than it did in the first 15 days. Health department clinics, hospitals and pharmacies helping to administer the vaccine are getting them to the highest prioritized people as quickly as possible.

“The speed of them vaccinating is quicker than we can provide them with supply,” Lakin said.


Rich Lakin, immunization director for the Utah Department of Health, discusses the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center at the Capitol on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News

So far, the greatest number of vaccines has been offered to hospital workers who come into contact with COVID-19 patients on a daily basis. The state has already moved down the list of its “phase one prioritization” to begin vaccinating staff and residents at long-term health care facilities throughout Utah.

Lakin said “anybody who has direct care to patients,” including emergency medical technicians, paramedics and emergency medical systems personnel, as well as firefighters and police officers, can make an appointment with their local health departments to be vaccinated.

“We are starting to see this vaccine roll out a lot quicker,” he said.

The Davis County Health Department immunized 1,000 people on Tuesday and expects to reach 5,000 doses by the end of the week, as the health department reports it can vaccinate “28 cars at a time” at its drive-thru COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Clearfield.

The Utah County Health Department vaccinated 600 emergency services personnel on Tuesday.

Lakin expects that the next phase of Utah’s vaccination program will begin later than anticipated, perhaps as early as mid-February. It means vaccinations will then be available for Utah residents 75 and older — a group of about 146,000 Utahns who exhibit the highest percentage of willingness to get the vaccine, or 83%.

The state’s vaccine coalition, which advises who can be vaccinated in Utah and when, will then decide whether to add subsequent waves of prioritized people, including additional age groups, people with underlying medical conditions, residents in congregate living situations and tribal communities, and at-risk racial and ethnic populations.

Another 2,614 cases of COVID-19 were reported on Wednesday by the health department, bringing the total number of known infections in the state to 271,940.

The average percent of positive tests, however, is 25%, indicating quite a large portion of illness is still going undetected.

“Not enough people are getting tested and there’s still significant community transmission,” said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease doctor with Intermountain Healthcare. He said case numbers have been down the past few days, and hospitalizations have retreated below the 85% capacity threshold, giving health care workers “time to catch their breath.”

“We’re on pins and needles waiting to see what happens after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays,” he said, adding that hospitals are already seeing cases related to holiday gatherings.

Recommendations on social behavior haven’t changed, Stenehjem said, encouraging people to continue social distancing, wearing masks and staying home whenever sick.

“Only gather with people in your home,” he said, adding, “there’s a lot of COVID-19 in our communities.”

Stenehjem said that so much of the COVID-19 response has been on public health and with the vaccine entering the picture, a shift to individual health will take place. But, because not a lot of data exists on COVID-19 immunity, it is best to avoid being “lulled into a false sense of security” after getting the vaccine, he said.

The vaccination process, however, has a long way to go before it reaches everyone in Utah who wants it.

The health department reports that 1.7 million people in Utah have been tested for COVID-19, the disease that is caused by the novel coronavirus, and 9,130 of those were tested since Tuesday.

There are 484 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 throughout Utah and the state reported another 21 deaths caused by the pandemic illness, bringing the death toll to 1,256 since mid-March.

The COVID-19 deaths reported Wednesday include:

  • A Washington County man between the ages of 65 and 84 who was a resident at a long-term health care facility when he died.
  • A Uintah County man between 65 and 84 who was hospitalized when he died.
  • Two Utah County men, both 65-84, both hospitalized.
  • A Weber County man older than 85 who was hospitalized.
  • Two Sanpete County men between 65 and 84, one of whom was hospitalized and the other a resident at a long-term health care facility.
  • A Davis County man between 45 and 64 who was hospitalized.
  • A Davis County woman older than 85 who was a resident at a long-term health care facility.
  • Two Salt Lake County men older than 85 who were residents at long-term health care facilities.
  • Five Salt Lake County men between 65 and 84, three who were hospitalized and two who were not.
  • A Salt Lake County woman older than 85 who was hospitalized.
  • A Salt Lake County woman between 45 and 64 who was a resident at a long-term health care facility.
  • Two Utah County men, one older than 85 and the other 65-84, both were residents at a long-term health care facility.
  • A Utah County woman older than 85 who was a resident at a long-term health care facility.