SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Spencer Cox said the state reached a key milestone Thursday in the fight against COVID-19, with vaccine doses outnumbering Utahns who have tested positive for the virus, and he announced that new groups will be eligible for shots starting March 1.
“We are well on our way again to getting those that are most at risk vaccinated, and saving lives,” the governor said during his weekly COVID-19 update, citing more than a 95,000 increase in vaccinations over the past week.
“Basically, we are trying to be more viral than the virus, and it’s happening.”
The Utah Department of Health reported 1,273 new coronavirus cases Thursday and 14 additional deaths. Utah’s total number of positive COVID-19 cases reached 351,273, while a total of 362,701 vaccine doses have now been administered in the state.
More than 2 million Utahns have been tested for the virus, a daily increase of 9,419. The rolling seven-day average for positive tests is 1,264 per day and 16.5% for the percent of positive laboratory tests. Vaccine doses are up 17,522 from Wednesday.
Cox said the age limit to be able to get vaccinated will drop from 70 to 65 and older beginning March 1; and all Utahns 18 and older with specific medical conditions that have been identified by the state will also become eligible.
The full list — which is at the end of this story below — includes Utahns with transplanted organs, HIV or otherwise immunocompromised, sickle cell, certain cancers, uncontrolled diabetes, severe obesity, stroke, Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis and other neurologic conditions, and some kidney, heart, liver and respiratory diseases.
However, the governor urged Utahns to wait for more details that will be provided in the coming weeks about the expanded access to vaccines before contacting their local health departments. He said about 400,000 Utahns fall into the new groups.
Already, health care workers, emergency services personnel, first responders, long-term care facility residents and staffs, teachers and school staffs, and all Utahns 70 and older are eligible to get vaccinated, but Cox acknowledged that demand has exceeded supplies.
That is changing, he said, with the Biden administration’s purchase of 200 million more doses of the two vaccines currently approved in the United States, from Pfizer and Moderna, as well as the promise that new vaccines will soon be authorized for distribution.
He said Utah has already seen its weekly federal vaccine allotment of first doses rise from 33,000 to around 42,000, while the March and April shipments look to be “even better than what I had hoped for before.” That could mean a jump from 82,000 first and second doses now to 195,000 total doses of just the two approved vaccines.
By early March, as new vaccines are expected to be available, the governor said the number of first doses alone shipped weekly to Utah could hit 130,000 with the addition of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine now up for approval. He also said there could be an additional 84,000 doses of yet another vaccine, from AstraZeneca.
That much vaccine “just changes the ball game for all of us. And that’s what we are planning for and that’s what we are preparing for,” he said, with the help of various partners that may include Nomi Health, which recently signed a contract with the state for vaccine distribution.
“It really is going to take everyone,” Cox said, including hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and mass vaccination sites, especially as Utah’s 13 local health departments begin reaching their capacity for getting shots in arms. The role of Nomi Health, he said, will be as “the stop gap, with whatever is left over.”
Utah is embracing what’s “a little bit of chaos,” Cox said, and continues to work to use up all of the doses being sent by the federal government within a week. The governor said he realizes there has been frustration, especially among older Utahns who have been unable to get appointments.
Still, Cox said that as of Thursday, approximately 35% of all Utahns 70 and over have been vaccinated, more than 84,000 of those considered to be the most vulnerable to the virus. He stressed the effectiveness of all vaccines in preventing hospitalization and death, even though the efficacy may differ.
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said pharmacies will soon be giving vaccinations, and there will be a way for Utahns to volunteer to help with that effort, whether it’s administering shots or performing other duties such as answering calls from people who want appointments.
Henderson said starting Feb. 11, Utahns who are eligible to be vaccinated will be able to begin making appointments to be vaccinated at Smith’s and Walmart pharmacies. More details on the pharmacies participating in vaccinations, as well as how to sign up for volunteer opportunities, are also yet to come.
Currently there are 365 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Utah. The death toll has reached 1,711, including the 14 deaths reported by the state health department Thursday, a number that included three deaths that occurred prior to Jan. 14. The latest lives lost are:
- Two Box Elder County men, both between 65 and 84, one a long-term care facility resident and the other hospitalized at time of death.
- A Davis County man, 65-84, hospitalized at time of death.
- Two Salt Lake County men, 65-84, one hospitalized and the other not hospitalized at time of death.
- Two Salt Lake County men, 45-64, both hospitalized.
- A Salt Lake County woman, older than 85, long-term care facility resident.
- A Salt Lake County woman, 65-84, long-term care facility resident.
- A Utah County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- A Washington County man, 65-84, hospitalized.
- Three Weber County women, one 45-64, one 65-84 and one older than 85, all long-term care facility residents.
The list of medical conditions that will qualify for vaccination in Utah beginning March 1 are:
- Solid organ transplant recipients.
- Cancer: non-hematologic diagnosed within last year (excluding basal and squamous cell cancer diagnoses); hematologic diagnosed within last five years.
- Receiving immunosuppression therapy.
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from blood, bone marrow or organ transplant; HIV; use of corticosteroids long-term; or use of other immune weakening medicines long-term.
- Severe kidney disease: on dialysis or with stage 4 or 5 chronic kidney disease.
- Uncontrolled diabetes: patients with an A1c of 9.0 or higher.
- People with a BMI of 40 or higher (also known as Class III or severe obesity).
- Chronic liver disease: chronic hepatitis B or C, chronic infective hepatitis (hepatitis B or C), alcohol-related liver disease, primary biliary cirrhosis, primary sclerosing cholangitis or hemochromatosis.
- Chronic heart disease (not hypertension): chronic heart failure, ischaemic heart disease and severe valve or congenital heart disease.
- Severe chronic respiratory disease (other than asthma): including severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, fibrosing lung disease, bronchiectasis or cystic fibrosis.
- Neurologic conditions that impair respiratory function, including: motor neuron disease, myasthenia gravis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, quadriplegia or hemiplegia, progressive cerebellar disease, epilepsy, Down syndrome.
- Stroke and dementia (Alzheimer’s, vascular, frontotemporal).
- Asplenia including splenectomy or a spleen dysfunction, including sickle cell disease.