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Essential workers to be removed from Utah vaccine plan as focus turns to age, risk

UDOH announces 'Phase 2' of vaccine rollout
Posted at 11:03 AM, Dec 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-28 23:09:52-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Health announced its second phase of the COVID-19 vaccine, which includes people over the age of 75 being offered inoculations beginning in mid-February.

But essential workers will now be removed from the plan, which now focuses on age and risk, FOX 13 has confirmed.

READ: Utah doctors prepare for possible post-holidays surge in COVID-19 cases

Governor Gary Herbert and his COVID-19 Unified Command signed off on the plan on Monday, prioritizing who will be receiving the vaccine in "Phase 2." Currently, health care workers at hospitals are being prioritized to get the vaccine which is still being rolled out.

People over 75 years-old are now the top priority in "Phase 2."

"We have seen older adults bear the most severe burden of disease in our state, and across the nation. These individuals are far more likely to be hospitalized, to need intensive care, and to pass away from COVID-19. Ensuring these members of our community receive the vaccine as early as possible will save lives and help reduce the burden on our hospitals," said UDOH Executive Director Rich Saunders in a statement.

UDOH said the hospitalization rates are extremely high for those aged 65-84. Mortality rates are also significantly elevated in these age groups. Adults older than 65 account for 77% of all COVID-19 related deaths in Utah, the agency said.

WATCH: Staff and residents of long-term care facilities in Utah begin to get COVID-19 vaccines

"As we move into Phase 2 of our vaccination program, it simply makes the most sense to vaccinate those who are at the highest risk for hospitalization and death first,” said Gov. Herbert in a statement Monday. "We will continue to refine our plans, and to move forward under the principle that those who stand to suffer the most should be vaccinated first."

UDOH and the COVID-19 Unified Command are still working on who else will be offered the vaccine once health care workers are finished. The two-dose vaccine will also go to K-12 teachers and school staffers by mid-to-late January.

Local health departments will offer the vaccine. Pharmacies and primary care providers are expected to begin getting it by the end of February. In an interview with FOX 13 last week, Gov. Herbert said he expected all Utahns to be offered the vaccine by April, with health restrictions being lifted by early summer once immunity is reached.

The Utah State Legislature has set aside up to $60 million for COVID-19 needs, including ensuring the vaccine remains free for everyone (the federal government is supposed to pay for it, but the money was set aside "just in case.")

State health officials did say they are considering additional age groups, people with underlying medical conditions and residents who live in congregate settings. But the agency has removed "essential workers" from the priority, focusing instead on age and risk, a spokesman for UDOH told FOX 13. Employment status is no longer a consideration.

FOX 13 is told a number of industry groups had begun lobbying the governor's office and UDOH to move up or be categorized as an "essential worker." In a statement, Gov.-elect Spencer Cox signaled that it didn't work.

"Focusing on age will do more to reduce infections and alleviate hospitalizations than any other category of individuals as we continue to administer vaccinations," he said. "I’m very supportive of this change and know it will save lives."