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Utah unveils COVID-19 vaccination plan

Health department to administer vaccine in waves
Posted at 1:15 PM, Oct 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-21 19:42:21-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's Department of Health will prioritize who will get an eventual vaccine for COVID-19.

According to a presentation by the agency for the Utah State Legislature's Interim Health & Human Services Committee obtained by FOX 13, the state is preparing for limited availability at first and has prioritized health care workers who work with COVID-19 patients. Other care workers, including housekeeping and long-term care facility staff, would also be in the first wave.

"We are looking at all the priority groups we can," Rich Lakin, the state health department's immunization program manager said in a briefing before the committee on Wednesday.

UDOH will have each hospital prioritize who on their staff should be the first to get the vaccine. Other health care personnel would be included in the second wave of the vaccine, including first responders. The third wave would be local health department employees and rural clinic workers, who are seemingly at a lower risk.

The general public would be offered the vaccine based on availability. For example, if the federal government made it more widely available, members of the public could get it at a hospital or pharmacy (or even a Walgreen's or CVS) sooner. But the presentation to the legislative committee made it clear the public is likely to get the vaccine in the third wave of availability.

But when the vaccine would be available remains unknown.

"Do you have any idea of a time frame? Plus or minus a month or two when phase one would begin?" asked Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful.

"I asked CDC on a conference call point blank when a vaccine is coming. They did not give me a good answer, unfortunately," Lakin replied. "But they did tell me a time frame of November to January."

UDOH is also preparing to actively monitor the vaccine and those who get it to ensure there are no adverse reactions. The agency said it would not press for mandating a vaccine, something lawmakers have expressed concerns about. Individual health care systems can mandate vaccinations as a term of employment (something that is done regularly for influenza vaccines).

In her own briefing with lawmakers, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said there were signs that Utah was hitting a plateau. Unfortunately, that plateau is at about 1,200 cases a day and a 15% positivity rate, with more healthy people being hospitalized. About 5% of those who test positive for COVID-19 end up in the hospital.

"Our key referral hospitals have very full ICUs. They are setting up separate COVID units, really stretching their resources thin. Because we’ve seen this flood of cases over the past several weeks, we can continue to anticipate that our ICUs will be stretched thin knowing 1% of all our cases will need ICU care," she told the committee.

Dr. Dunn said it would be about another week before Utah knows the impact of the new restrictions and risk levels that have been implemented statewide.