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Utah lawmakers dedicate millions to make sure COVID-19 vaccine is free

Posted at 5:35 PM, Dec 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-25 20:30:37-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers have set aside millions of dollars to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine is free for everyone who wants one.

At its most recent meeting, the Utah State Legislature's powerful Executive Appropriations Committee set aside $60 million for ongoing coronavirus response efforts. Among the funding items, ensuring the COVID-19 vaccine doesn't include an out-of-pocket expense.

"That $60 million is something we’ve set aside, those are state funds, we’ve set them aside to use in case," Sen. Jerry Stevenson, who oversees the budget for the Utah State Senate, told FOX 13.

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Sen. Stevenson, R-Layton, said the federal government has said it will cover all costs for vaccine deployment. However, the committee set aside the money "just in case." If it's not used, it will go back to the state's general fund.

There's a logic to the legislature taking steps to ensure the vaccine remains free. The more people are vaccinated, the sooner the state and the rest of the nation can achieve "herd immunity" and the sooner restrictions can be lifted.

"We need to really get to 70, 80 percent to make sure we’re not going to go back and do this again," Sen. Stevenson said of the pandemic.

The state is still rolling out the vaccine to health care workers who are directly involved in treating people diagnosed with COVID-19. Vaccination timelines are based on availability of doses, which have fluctuated recently.

The latest timeline proposed by the Utah Department of Health and the state's COVID-19 Unified Command call for long-term care facilities, assisted living centers and school employees to get it by mid-to-late January.

READ: Married Utah doctors give each other COVID-19 vaccine

People who are deemed "essential workers" would get it by February, according to the state's timeline. It would spread out by March to those who work in personal care industries, those over age 65 not in an assisted living or long-term care facility, various community groups and, finally, the general public.

In an interview with FOX 13 earlier this week, Governor Gary Herbert said the general public might be offered the vaccine by April, with health restrictions potentially being lifted by early summer (once the second dose of the vaccine is widely adopted).

"I think probably by April we’ll have the vaccines where everybody that wants to have the inoculation get it, that’ll make 2021 our great year of recovery," the governor said. "And I think by summertime we’ll be in full-blown recovery and go back to normalcy when it comes to our social interaction."