The COVID-19 vaccine has arrived in Utah.
FOX 13 first reported the shipments had arrived early Monday. LDS Hospital and Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, both run by Intermountain Healthcare, received the first shipments of the vaccine. They are now being prepared to be given out to frontline health care workers who are directly involved in care for COVID-19 patients.
"We are excited at Intermountain Healthcare to be able to offer this to our caregivers as a safe prevention from COVID-19," said Dr. Kristin Dascomb, an infectious diseases specialist with the state's largest health care system.
University of Utah Health said it anticipated shipments of its doses to arrive by Tuesday.
Under the plan put out by Utah's Department of Health and the governor's COVID-19 Unified Command, five hospitals in the state (LDS, University, Intermountain Medical Center, Dixie and Utah Valley Regional) will receive the vaccine because they have cold-storage facilities able to handle it.
"We will begin by vaccinating caregivers starting with those who are the most highly at risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19," Dr. Dascomb said. "These would include those who work on our COVID units, our ICU care doctors, nurses, technicians, those who work on medical units, those who work on environmental services who deal with COVID waste. Those who are in respiratory therapy who help others who breath more safely when they are sick. All of these will in the first stages, but all health care workers are in part '1A' of this distribution and we are excited to offer it to them."
The two-dose vaccine will be given out based on availability with frontline health care employees being prioritized. Then it will expand to other health care employees, long-term care facility workers and residents, teachers and other essential workers. Seeking to temper expectations, Utah's Department of Health has warned that it may be July by the time the vaccine is widely available to the general public.
Until then, Dr. Eddie Stenehjem said, people still need to practice essential COVID-19 health guidelines including face coverings, physical distancing and good hygiene.
"Think of this vaccine as the light at the end of the tunnel. However, that tunnel we're in is still quite long," he told reporters at a news conference Monday.
The news of the vaccine was greeted with optimism by Governor Gary Herbert.
"Today is a good day. We have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 since the earliest days of the pandemic. Now that the vaccine is in Utah — and the first doses will soon be administered to healthcare workers — this is the beginning of the road back to normal life," he said in a statement to FOX 13. "I look forward to the day the vaccine is available to everyone. In the meantime, we must not let up on our health protocols. In order to slow the spread of the virus, we must continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and practice proper hygiene."