SALT LAKE CITY — A significant expansion of Utah's coronavirus vaccination campaign started Monday.
Up until this point, only health care workers in Utah's hospitals have had access to shots, but now residents and staff in long-term care facilities will begin to be vaccinated. So will non-hospital health care workers like doctors, nurses and dentists in clinical settings, as well as public and tribal front-line health care workers.
“Where we've been pretty limited up until this point in terms of the populations we've been focusing on, this week we'll really start to see branching out and getting more doses to more people across the state,” said Tom Hudachko, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Health.
Residents and staff at Woodland Park Rehabilitation and Care Center were some of the first Utah long-term care residents to receive the vaccine.
“We’re really privileged to offer the vaccinations today to our tireless heroes that have endured this pandemic since March,” said Brian Gross, regional vice-president of operations for Avalon Healthcare Group.
He called it a joyous day for residents who’ve been waiting most of the year for a vaccine. "They’ve endured nine months now of limited visitation and direct contact with family members and this has been particularly hard on them as well,” Gross said. “This is our light at the end of the tunnel.”
CVS Pharmacy set up a clinic at the care center to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The goal is to vaccinate about 100 residents and 100 staff members Monday.
“Getting these vaccines in as quickly as possible for the residents and the front-line healthcare workers that work in these long-term care facilities is so important,” said Allie Spangler, director of membership for the Utah Health Association.
The Utah Department of Health says Woodland Park Rehabilitation and Care Center has had six COVID-19 deaths this year, all in May, but the vaccine offers new hope.
“This does offer hope for the future but we have to be successful,” said Michelle Hofmann with UDOH. “We have to hit it out of the park here.”
Vaccines were available at a couple of skilled-nursing centers Monday. Assisted living centers will be eligible for the vaccine on January 4.
In the meantime, the health department stresses that it is very important to keep the basic guidelines aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus. Those include social distancing and wearing a mask when that’s not possible, washing your hands frequently and staying home if you feel sick.