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Utah prepares for drive-thru inoculation sites with big boost in COVID-19 vaccine

Posted at 3:58 PM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 20:02:18-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's Department of Health is working with the state's largest health care providers to create mass vaccine clinics to supplement the efforts of local health departments, FOX 13 has confirmed.

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The agency is anticipating that within the next few weeks, Utah's share of COVID-19 vaccine doses will jump dramatically. Right now, the state gets about 70,000 to 75,000 doses weekly that it exhausts as it vaccinates Utahns over the age of 70.

By March 1, that could change.

"Between Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, we could be looking at somewhere between 243,000 to 245,000 doses coming every week," Rich Lakin, the head of the Utah Department of Health's immunization program, said in an interview Tuesday with FOX 13.

Right now, local health departments are in charge of vaccine efforts. But Lakin said they cannot handle the increased demand with a significant spike in COVID-19 vaccine doses.

READ: Utah Co. Health Dept. reminds those ineligible for vaccine to wait

"They’re moving through vaccines, unbelievable right now," he said of local health departments. "The whole idea is when we get more doses that come on, it just makes sense to not overwhelm them. It just makes sense to bring on additional partners."

The state's COVID-19 Unified Command and UDOH are working with Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health to set up "vaccine throughput" sites. Those are essentially drive-thru vaccine clinics. MountainStar said it was also in discussions with the state.

"Intermountain Healthcare, along with many others, is excited to help add this layer of protection in our community, but also still encourage masking, social distancing, and all those other protective measures we know have worked to help protect our community," the health care system said in a statement to FOX 13.

In addition, Lakin said grocery stores would be involved in vaccination efforts. Smith's and Walmart stores will be used. Lakin said there is also discussion about Associated Food's 94 Utah stores being used as well.

With the increased dosage availability is the ability for the general public to be offered it much sooner. As of March 1, Governor Spencer Cox has ordered Utahns over the age of 65 and those with a select set of comorbidities to be offered the vaccine. Right now, the state has prioritized health care workers, K-12 educators and staff and those over age 70.

READ: New mammogram guidelines for women recently vaccinated for COVID-19

Lakin told FOX 13 that if projections on dosage amounts work out, it is possible the general public could be offered the vaccine by April (but he said most likely May).

"We can go through the age groups a lot quicker, we can look at the general public being a lot earlier than I anticipated," he said.

But UDOH has repeatedly cautioned that vaccine timelines speed up and slow down based on dosage availability through the federal government.

Still, the Utah State Legislature has set aside money to help make it happen. Millions of dollars have been appropriated for COVID-19 vaccine efforts to ensure every eligible person is offered an inoculation.

"We did set that money aside," said Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, the Senate's budget chief. "And we haven’t spent it. We just set it aside."