With demand for COVID-19 vaccinations dropping off in Utah and other parts of the country, it’s time for some tough talk with those who are reluctant to get the shots, a doctor from the region’s largest health care system said Friday as the state topped 2 million vaccine doses administered.
“We’ve got to get to that population that are more on the fence, the ones that are kind of hesitant about, not quite sure about it,” Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an Intermountain Healthcare infectious diseases physician, told reporters during a virtual news conference.
Even with nearly 900,000 Utahns now considered fully vaccinated, Stenehjem said the state won’t be able to get back to normal until more of the people who have held back get the shots, so it’s important to “have frank conversations with them, nonemotional conversations. We need to know why they are hesitant.”
The pause in administering the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration on April 13 after initially six women developed rare but serious blood clots following their shots likely was a factor, he said.
“I do think the pause and the reports of these adverse events certainly probably gave people a little pause and made them a little more hesitant in getting the vaccine. I think it’s our job to get out and really highlight that the safety program worked,” Stenehjem said.
Later Friday, the federal agencies said use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could resume and expressed confidence in its safety and effectiveness in preventing COVID-19. The decision followed a recommendation by an advisory panel that found the benefits of the vaccine outweigh any risks.
The Utah Department of Health followed that announcement with its own guidance to again offer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the state. Before the pause, more than 86,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been administered in Utah, according the health department.
Gov. Spencer Cox offered his support for the one-shot vaccine in the health department announcement.
“For many Utahns, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the best vaccine,” Cox said. “A single dose gives us the best chance of vaccinating people who are hard to reach by geography, those who are hard to reach because of personal schedules, those who might be less likely to return for a second shot, and even those who don’t like needles. We are relieved that these doses will rejoin our arsenal in the fight against COVID-19.”
It may take several discussions with family and friends — as well as with doctors and other health care providers — to sell someone on the importance of getting vaccinated, Stenehjem said, but “it’ll come, and we just have to keep doing our best to get out there and make sure we’re having conversations.”
At Intermountain Healthcare, vaccinations are routinely recommended, he said.
Those who are dead set against vaccinations are not likely to change their minds, the doctor said, but described “anti-vaxxers” as in the minority, and they should not be confused with Utahns who aren’t convinced they need to get the shots.
“Make sure they understand why it’s important. If they don’t perceive themselves as a risk, think about and tell a story about how they could potentially transmit to a loved one,” he said when asked for advice about talking a family member into getting vaccinated.
Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday Utah’s COVID-19 cases have plateaued, and state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn, who is leaving her post to head the Salt Lake County Health Department, said demand for vaccinations is decreasing.
The plateau was called “good news” compared to what’s happening in Michigan and other states that are seeing a surge in cases. Dunn said that’s not happening in Utah because of mask wearing, social distancing and other public health measures, along with vaccination efforts.
She, too, spoke of the need to reach Utahns who have not yet stepped up to be vaccinated. The state is looking to transition from focusing on mass vaccination sites to supplying doses to doctors and other health care providers who can deal more directly with the concerns their patients may have about the shots.
The Utah Department of Health reported Friday that 2,014,815 vaccine doses have now been administered in the state, a daily increase of 29,519. At the same time, there have been 344 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death from the virus since Thursday.
There have been 394,678 positive coronavirus cases in Utah since the pandemic started more than a year ago. The rolling seven-day average for positive tests for the virus is 369 per day, with 4,580 Utahns taking 15,833 tests since Thursday.
The rolling seven-day average for percent positivity of COVID-19 tests in Utah is 2.9% when all results are included, the method used by the state to help determine county transmission levels, and 5.8% when multiple tests by individuals are excluded.
Currently 140 people are hospitalized with the coronavirus in Utah, putting the total hospitalizations in the state for COVID-19 at 16,033. Utah’s death toll is now at 2,179, with the loss reported Friday of a Utah County man between 65 and 84 who was a long-term care facility resident when he died before March 23.