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Utahns 65 and older can now get COVID-19 vaccine, governor says

Suzanne Roskelley, left, gives Bob Olschesky, of West Valley City, a COVID-19 vaccination at the Mountain America Exposition Center in Sandy on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.
Suzanne Roskelley, left, gives Bob Olschesky, of West Valley City, a COVID-19 vaccination at the Mountain America Exposition Center in Sandy on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. Utahns 65 and older are now eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Spencer Cox announced Thursday.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns 65 and older are now eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Spencer Cox announced Thursday. However, residents who have specified chronic medical conditions will still have to wait until March 1.

“We have made incredible progress,” Cox told reporters during his monthly news conference on PBS Utah, with about 62% of all Utahns 70 and older having already received at least the first of two doses of the vaccines now available.

The number is even higher, more than 90%, among long-term care residents 70 and older, he said.

Utah’s vaccine eligibility changes come as the Utah Department of Health is reporting 1,151 new coronavirus cases and seven additional deaths. The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is up to 830 per day, with another 8,121 Utahns have been tested and 21,055 tests have been conducted since Wednesday.

The total vaccinations administered in Utah is now at 563,608, a daily increase of 12,540.

The governor had set a March 1 date to expand vaccine eligibility, to both those 65 and older as well as some 220,000 Utahns of all ages with comorbidities identified by the state, including certain cancers, uncontrolled diabetes, severe obesity, Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis and some kidney, heart, liver and respiratory diseases.

That’s “a really big category,” Cox said, so they still won’t be eligible until the start of next month.

Deciding when various groups can get vaccinated is “really just a math issue for us,” he said, based on the state’s allotment of doses from the federal government. The Biden administration has purchased 200 million additional doses, and new vaccines are anticipated to be approved for emergency use as soon as next week.

Cox said it should take until mid-to-late March before eligibility expands again, first to Utahns 60 and older, and then to those 55 and older, along with adding in other underlying medical conditions that “aren’t as serious as this first wave but are still serious.”

Utahns 65 and older can go to the state’s COVID-19 website, coronavirus.utah.gov, for information on signing up for shots that are available through the state’s 13 local health departments as well as some Smith’s, Walmart, Harmons, Dan’s, Maceys, Dick’s and Fresh Market pharmacies throughout the state.

State health department spokesman Tom Hudachko advised Utahns to be patient.

“Everybody who wants to receive a vaccine may not be able to immediately. If you can’t find an appointment today, keep trying, There are more doses than ever coming to the state, and everyone who wants to be vaccinated will have the opportunity,” Hudachko said.

The Salt Lake County Health Department only started taking appointments Thursday evening for 69-year-olds, with plans to accept appointments after 6 p.m. Friday for those who are 68; after 6 p.m. Saturday for those who are 67; after 6 p.m. Sunday for those who are 66; and after 6 p.m. Monday for those who are 65.

Salt Lake County residents can also schedule vaccine appointments by calling 385-468-7468, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., although there may be a long wait and appointments won’t be made for those with with underlying medical conditions until March 1.

Utah started vaccinating front-line hospital workers in December and has since added all health care workers, first responders, long-term care facility residents and staffs, K-12 teachers and school staffs, and Utahns 70 and older. Some local health districts have reported vaccinating more than 70% of older residents already, Cox said.

The governor also stuck to his end of May goal for the vaccine to be available to every Utah adult who wants it, even though President Joe Biden said this week nationally, that will take until the end of July. Cox said the Biden administration tends to “underpromise and overdeliver. That’s not a bad thing.”

Although the governor said there has been some “conflicting information” about how quickly production is ramping up for what would be the third vaccine approved for use in the United States, what he’s hearing from the White House is that the manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, is “on course” to meet previous projections.

Cox said the state will make revisions in its timeline if necessary. But he said, “from all the information we’re receiving, we’re very confident of that May timeline.”

Still, he acknowledged “the only thing that could slow this up is again, the amount of vaccines being produced, if something happens in the production cycle, or in the delivery cycle,” such as the delay in vaccine shipments to Utah and the rest of the country this week caused by winter storms.

Again Thursday, the governor said the state has no interest in mandating vaccinations.

Utah’s rolling seven-day average for percent positivity is 13.6% if the results of multiple tests taken by an individual over the past 90 days are excluded, and 6.25% if all test results are included in the calculation, now the state’s preferred method.

Based in part on the percent positivity rate, five of Utahns 29 counties are now considered to have a low level of COVID-19 transmission and nine counties, a moderate level. Masks are still required at all transmission levels in Utah, but gatherings can be larger.

Currently, there are 258 people hospitalized in the state with COVID-19, and Utah’s death toll has reached 1,813 with the seven new deaths reported Thursday. They are:

  • A Salt Lake County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Salt Lake County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Grand County man, between 45 and 64, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Utah County man, older than 85, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Cache County woman, between 65 and 84, long-term care facility resident.
  • A Weber County woman, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.
  • A Salt Lake County man, between 65 and 84, hospitalized at time of death.