SALT LAKE CITY — As mask mandates drift into the past, events open back to full capacity, and businesses get bustling again, it may feel like Utah is entering a post-pandemic phase. But in Salt Lake County, the health department says we are nowhere near herd immunity-- and they're hoping to change that.
The Salt Lake County Health Department is making the push to reach people who may be hesitant to get the Covid-19 vaccine, by getting creative in its approach to educate and draw people in.
On Thursday evening, music boomed from a speaker in front of the Neighborhood House in Salt Lake City.
People stood at tables set up in front, playing games for prizes and grabbing pamphlets for organizations and programs like Maliheh Clinic and Upstart.
A Utah Food Bank truck sat parked nearby, and volunteers brought out bags of food to set on a table, up for grabs.
An employee from Tacos El Pariente toasted corn tortillas inside a taco stand, flipping them over as they sizzled.
It was easy to see in that moment, why the Neighborhood House goes by that name.
"If there's one thing the Neighborhood House is known for, it is fun," said Neighborhood House Executive Director Jennifer Nuttall. "We like to have fun, and we like to celebrate people."
As a celebration of tacos and fun were served up outside, inside was much quieter.
In the building's gym, a few tables were set up and ready for people to approach.
Nallely Perez, along with her 6-year old Ian and 3-year old Alan, sat down and talked about the Covid-19 vaccine.
She was taking a huge step-- the first in her family to do so. As Ian and Alan ran around the gym, laughing and playing, Perez braced for the quick poke of the needle. In a moment, her first dose was done.
"She was a little hesitant because there was a lot of myths around the vaccine. And she wasn't sure about getting it in the first place," said Gabe Moreno with the Salt Lake County Health Department, translating for Perez.
She explained that no one else in her family wants to get the vaccine.
"The majority is in due to fear," Moreno said, as he listened to Perez speak.
There is a lot of mistrust, she said.
"If they feel the side effects from the vaccine, they think they're going to be out of work, and they don't want that," Moreno relayed.
It's a sentiment the Salt Lake County Health Department is running into right now, indicating that the "low hanging fruit" of those who wanted to be vaccinated have had that chance.
The problem, the health department indicated: Salt Lake County is only 42 percent vaccinated. That's well below the 70 percent that health experts believe is needed to reach herd immunity.
"I think we're still dealing with some degree of vaccine hesitancy," said epidemiologist Annie George.
She broke down the statistics by age group, saying that vaccinations for those above 18 are slowing down quite a bit. The 12 to 18 group is still quickly climbing, she said.
Here are how the numbers break down--
--Those over 60 have achieved that magic 70 percent, according to numbers provided by George.
--The 50 to 59 age group is on its way at 64 percent.
--People ages 40 to 49 are sitting at 56 percent.
--Everyone else younger than that, is under 50 percent.
George said now comes reaching people who don't want the vaccine.
"The next group is a little bit more difficult with people that might need convincing, or people who are a little bit hesitant for one degree or another," she said. "So, that's kind of where we are at right now is trying to set up focus clinics and target specific populations or areas that make it more convenient for people to get the vaccine."
She said they are going to target areas of the valley that don't have high vaccination rates. They're also planning to host a Bar-B-Que to reach the homeless population.
Nuttall explained why they felt it was important to host a clinic at the Neighborhood House.
"This is one of the most ethnically diverse and just culturally rich communities in all of Salt Lake County. And our community was really hard hit by the pandemic," she said.
She said it was important for them as a community resource to make the vaccine accessible, while also being able to answer questions and dispel myths.
"Being able to have the clinic here, be able to talk about the vaccine, be able to promote it, it does really help coming from someone they already know and trust," she said.
They also offered prizes and incentives for getting the shot, like being entered into a drawing for one year of free childcare at Neighborhood House-- a $6,000 value, Nuttall said. They also entered those who showed up Thursday into a drawing for free tickets to Lagoon.
And, of course, there was the free tacos.
All in an effort to make the vaccine experience less intimidating, more informative, and fun.
"Getting excitement around it, and making it feel like a community event-- which it is," Nuttall said. "It's the community coming together, for the good of the community."