SALT LAKE CITY — Starting next week, all Utahns who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine will be offered it.
Governor Spencer Cox made a surprise announcement at his monthly news conference on Thursday.
"Embrace the chaos a little bit," he joked to reporters.
Effective March 24, any Utahn over the age of 16 will be offered the vaccine, a week ahead of his previous April 1 target date. The governor said that as of Thursday, 15% of vaccine doses had been unclaimed so he was prodding people who qualify now to get inoculated before demand becomes strained.
"This is a significant movement in timing. It also means there will not be vaccine available for everyone next week. I want to be very clear about that. It may take a few weeks for you to schedule an opportunity to get vaccinated," he warned.
The news was dropped on local health departments late Wednesday night. Lori Buttars, a spokeswoman for the Weber-Morgan Health Department, said they are already making plans to expand mass vaccine clinics.
"So far, we’ve had a great response from our residents," she told FOX 13. "Lots of people indicate they want this vaccine and we want to be able to get them. We know supplies will be a little tight for a while. Our shipments have been flat for a couple of weeks. But we do about 1,200 a day at the Dee Events Center."
Utah is anticipating an increase in COVID-19 vaccine doses in the coming weeks. Cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to the novel coronavirus are also starting to drop.
The governor's move is also ahead of a self-imposed deadline. The Utah State Legislature passed a bill dubbed the "COVID-19 endgame" that lifts health restrictions once certain metrics are met. But it also lifts the statewide mask mandate on April 10.
The bill still requires masks in schools, at gatherings where there's more than 50 people, and private businesses can still require them. Gov. Cox also urged Utahns to voluntarily wear a face covering until all Utahns have been vaccinated.
"People are smarter than we give them credit for," he told reporters.
While his office and Utah's Department of Health were involved in negotiating the bill with the legislature, the governor was critical of it.
"This is not what we wanted. I’ve been critical from the beginning," he said.
But asked by FOX 13 why he didn't just go ahead and veto the bill, the governor acknowledged the sometimes tricky business of politics.
"This is the practical piece that I think a lot of people don’t understand of the sausage-making," he said of legislating. "We have a choice every time. We can say, 'Hey, we can veto a bill and we're not going to negotiate.' But when I involve myself in the negotiations, then I have do what I believe is best for the state and I have to get as much as I can. We believed they had the votes to override a veto for an immediate end to masks. I believe that wholeheartedly."
Even though he hinted at a possible veto, Gov. Cox is expected to sign the bill into law because he struck a deal with the legislature.