SALT LAKE CITY — Health departments across the state are experiencing a new rush for COVID-19 vaccine appointments, after Governor Spencer Cox announced Thursday that Utahns aged 65 to 69 are now eligible for the vaccine.
Originally, the 65 to 69 age group was going to have to wait until March 1st for the next phase of the rollout, which also includes those 18 and older with certain health conditions.
The 18+ group with health conditions will still need to wait until March 1st.
Health departments said they were given a heads up by the governor Wednesday to prepare for Thursday's announcement that they could start administering the vaccine to the next round of senior citizens more than a week early.
The Utah County Health Department is ready to get back to being busy. Aislynn Tolman-Hill explained to FOX 13 last week that COVID-19 vaccine clinics had been slowing down for the 70 and older population.
"We were really kind of struggling to get those appointment slots filled up," Tolman-Hill said.
In fact, Tolman-Hill said on Thursday morning, they had about 1,200 to 1,300 time slots open. As soon as the online flood gates opened following Governor Cox's announcement to widen the age range to 65-plus, that all changed.
"Any open slots that we had available, for instance, for appointments today, and tomorrow, and for events on Saturday-- all of those open appointment slots have already been filled," Tolman-Hill said. "So that's a really, really good thing and we were really glad to see that happen, and happen quickly."
And by quickly, she meant in less than 15 minutes-- similar to the rush Utah County saw early on.
"We couldn't be more thrilled, more excited," Tolman-Hill said, of the early 65+ rollout.
While they are ready to move on to the next phase early, what about busier areas like Salt Lake County?
Appointments for the 70 and older crowd were already booked through the end of the month, indicated Salt Lake County Health Department spokesperson Nicholas Rupp.
But this week, something unexpected started to happen that freed up a large number of appointments.
"We canceled several dozen appointments every day, for a variety of reasons," he said.
Those reasons for cancelations, Rupp explained, ranged from people deciding to get their vaccine at a local pharmacy instead, to people who signed up for multiple vaccine appointments.
"They had two, or three, or in some cases even more appointments than that, for the same person," he said.
On top of that, Rupp described how they realized some of those signing up for appointments were much younger than 70 years old, and not in the health care or first responder group.
"We've also, unfortunately, had a number of people register themselves for an appointment and they are not a healthcare worker and they are not over 70," he said. "And so, when they arrive for their appointment, we turn them away."
They turn them away because of the state restrictions on vaccine administration, he indicated, which mandate that they only give the vaccine out to the eligible groups.
Rupp said they expect to have around 10,000 or more appointments to offer the 65 to 69 age group beginning next week, through February 27th.
But not everyone can sign up at once.
"In Salt Lake County we have so many people who are in the 65 to 69 range, that we want to be sure that those who are most suspectable to severe illness, the oldest in that group-- the 69 year olds-- are the first eligible to get it," he said.
Starting at 6 pm every day, the county will release appointments online and offer help by phone.
69-year olds were able to sign up starting at 6 pm Thursday. On Friday, 68-year olds can enroll. The 67-year old age group can make an appointment beginning 6 pm Saturday, followed by 66-year olds Sunday, and finishing with 65-year old residents on Monday.
Rupp said they should be able to get through all eligible 65 to 69 year old residents who want the vaccine by mid-March.
Utah County residents: Sign up for COVID-19 vaccine appointment text alerts by texting UCHEALTH to 888777. Click here to look at vaccine clinics and make an appointment.
Salt Lake County residents: Click here to make a vaccine appointment or call 385-468-SHOT Monday through Friday from 8 am to 8 pm, or Saturday and Sunday between 10 am and 8 pm. New appointment slots open at 6 pm.