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Rural Utah counties explain delay in COVID-19 vaccine administration

Posted at 4:44 PM, Dec 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-31 23:37:05-05

SALT LAKE CITY — There are more than 100,000 vaccine doses statewide, distributed to each county based on population size.

On a typical year, vaccines are accessible through hospitals, health departments and local pharmacies.

Currently, the COVID-19 vaccine can be administered either at the hospital or the health department and for rural communities, that could mean a 30-to-50-mile drive into town to get vaccinated.

It's been just over two weeks since doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Utah, and though there's a large supply it seems to pale in comparison to the urgent demand.

Read: COVID-19 vaccine administration starts slow but is expected to gain momentum

Bradon Bradford, executive director for the Southeast Utah Health Department, said the biggest challenge is getting the message out to those who don't have easy access to the vaccine.

The Southeast region covers more than 40,000 people living in Carbon, Emery and Grand County.

So far, Bradford said they've received 1,100 vaccines and distributed 450—about 41 percent.

"It's been a tough week because a lot of offices have shut down," said Bradford. "We didn’t really have access to get to those employees for vaccinations."

Not enough staff to hold a vaccination clinic either.

Bradford said they're hoping to get additional doses next week and with a full staff back in the offices, hoping to administer hundreds of more vaccines.

"There has been some hesitancy," said Bradford. "Most say they want to get it, just not right now."

On Wednesday, their department started working on a new campaign, with one of their local doctors, to boost confidence in the vaccine.

Bradford said they anticipate other challenges as well, like scheduling 200 people for doses each week.

When it comes time to administering the second dose, that 200 turns into 400 people needing vaccination.

Bradford also has concerns about what would happen if their supply runs out.

"If it's open to people who are 75 and older, how do we schedule those when we only have enough for 200 per week or so?" said Bradford.

In comparison, the Southwest region—covering Washington, Iron, Kane, Beaver and Garfield County—has administered only seven percent of their nearly 10,000 vaccines.

There are five clinics for the 230,000 people living in the area.

Fox 13 was told the Southwest Utah Health Department has not started administering the vaccine, accounting for the small percentage.

Hospitals in the area have been vaccinating their workers and the Southwest clinics will start Monday.

Both regions plan to use mobile units in addition to their clinics.

"At least you don’t have to travel 30-40 miles to the nearest office," said Bradford.

A drive, Bradford hopes folks won't have to make but believes is worth it for the vaccine.

"We’ve had healthcare workers come in, shouting for joy that this is here," said Bradford.