SALT LAKE CITY — A light is starting to emerge at the end of the tunnel for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Utah's Department of Health updated its rollout plans for distribution of a vaccine, with a July target for everyone in the state being able to access it.
"It’ll be in the phases and these waves so that everybody understands where they fall within this timeline," said Rich Lakin, the Utah Department of Health's immunization program director.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna made vaccines are showing strong efficacy, an encouraging sign. But Utah does not know how many doses of either vaccine it will receive or when. So it has been planning for limited distribution with a best and worst-case scenario.
FOX 13 first reported on the vaccine distribution plans last month when state health officials briefed the Utah State Legislature on the plan. Timelines have now been adjusted to account for availability and clinical trial results.
When the vaccine arrives in December or January, only a handful of hospitals will get it (LDS, University of Utah, Intermountain Medical Center, Utah Valley Regional and Dixie Regional). They will prioritize which health care workers will get it, with those working on COVID-19 patients moving to the front of the line. Other hospital workers, even housekeeping staff, will be in the first wave.
From there, state plans call for long-term care facility employees and other health care personnel to get it. By February or March, long-term and care center residents could get the vaccine. So would high-risk essential workers in the community, like emergency responders.
After that, plans are to roll it out to tribal communities, the elderly, higher-risk professions (teachers, child care workers, etc.). Office workers or those who have the ability to work from home will be the lowest priority.
By July, UDOH believes the vaccine will be available to everyone.
"July is probably the most likely scenario," Lakin said Wednesday. "However, based on how much vaccine, all Utahns could receive it in June... I still feel confident all Utahns could start receiving the vaccine in the July time frame."
Utah receives allotments based on population. That's why the agency has created a plan to distribute it in waves.
But Lakin cautioned "it's a marathon, not a sprint." Just because the vaccine will become available does not mean the virus will go away. In fact, Utahns can expect to keep wearing face masks, physical distancing, rigid hygiene practices and limiting social gatherings until mid-summer 2021.
The COVID-19 vaccines will be distributed in a pair of shots, administered 28 days apart. The Utah Department of Health is hoping for a 70% adoption rate of the COVID-19 vaccine. In contrast, Utah typically sees a 40% adoption rate for influenza vaccines.
"It was similar to a regular flu shot. Some injection site pain, and a little bit of fever and malaise but short lived and back to normal," said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, who has been participating in Moderna's clinical trial.
Rep. Eliason said he volunteered for the trial and will be involved in it for a minimum of two years (no one knows how long the vaccine lasts).
"I went in and got an antibody test several weeks after the second injection and that came back positive," he said. "If it was above 1.1 it indicated you had the virus? Mine came back at 8.0."
Rep. Eliason said he feels fine, but he'll still wear masks and physical distance even though the vaccine appears to be working until it starts being widely adopted.
"I'm very optimistic and our society needs hope and this has given me a lot of hope," he said.