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Health, Science & Environment

Utah Health Officials Plan Phased Rollout Of COVID-19 Vaccine, Starting Mid-December

An illustration of a gloved hand holding a bottle labeled 'COVID-19 Vaccine' in front of a group of people in face masks.
Nalidsa Sukprasert
/
iStockphoto
Pfizer and Moderna have both released data that shows their COVID-19 vaccines to be about 95% effective, and expect to apply for authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the next few weeks.

Utah state health officials expect the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to be distributed to hospital workers by the second week of December.

Pfizer and Moderna have both released data that shows their vaccines to be about 95% effective, and expect to apply for authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the next few weeks.

The state health department expects to roll it out to long term care facilities after hospitals, then vulnerable populations — like people over the age of 65 — and people with moderate-risk jobs, and finally the general public in July.

The time frames, though, may shift once the state gets more information on how many doses will be available and the timeframe.

“It is very difficult to plan when we don't know exactly how much vaccine we have,” said Rich Lakin, immunization director for the Utah Department of Health.

Phase 1: Hospitals and Long Term Care Facilities

UDOH expects the state will have 100,000 doses available in mid-December, likely mostly of Pfizer’s vaccine. Those doses will go to five major hospitals: LDS Hospital, University of Utah, Intermountain Medical Center, Utah Valley Hospital and Dixie Regional Medical Center.

The department is working with 30 other hospitals to get them prepared for the vaccine, which it estimates will go to them in January.

Hospitals will decide which of their workers to vaccinate first.

UDOH estimates smaller hospitals will likely get the Moderna vaccine, because Pfizer’s is set to be available earlier and is more complicated to distribute and store. Pfizer’s vaccine has to be stored at -94 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The difficulty and the logistics nightmare that comes with the Pfizer vaccine is that … there [are] lots of requirements around how to store, adding dry ice, how many times you can open the box,” Lakin said. “And then once you've taken it out of the box and you put it in the freezer, there's a short life at that point.”

As more doses of the vaccines become available in the state, they’d be rolled out to long term care facility staff starting in January, and the remaining staff and residents in February and March through a federal partnership with Walgreens and CVS.

“We're hitting long term care facilities pretty heavy, pretty hard because we've seen a lot of burden there in addition to the hospitals,” Lakin said. “So it's important that we try to move as quickly as we can with that population.”

So far, 38% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths have been residents of long term care facilities.

Also in February and March, the state will work on a risk assessment model, which will determine the chances of contracting COVID-19 while at work for different occupations, to inform who gets vaccinated in the next wave. That model will be developed by a group consisting of representatives from business, healthcare, public health departments and the governor's office.

Phase 2: High Risk Groups and Essential Workers

From March to July, the state plans for vaccines to be available for native tribes, racial groups that have been hard hit and other vulnerable populations like people over the age of 65 and people with underlying medical conditions.

They would also be rolled out to people who work moderate-risk jobs, like teachers, restaurant employees and flight attendants.

Lakin said pharmacies and health departments will be asking, but not verifying, if people who show up to get vaccinated are a member of one of those groups.

“I am optimistic that most people are honest and that they'll understand that, ‘You know what? I can wait for the vaccine because there are people above me that are at higher risk,’” he said.

Lakin expects the general public will get the vaccine in July.

Phase 3: General Public and Continued Monitoring

From July onward, Lakin said he expects the general public to be able to get vaccinated and health departments to work with public and private groups to ensure that people have access to the vaccine.

UDOH plans to monitor which populations have lower vaccination rates and work to make it available to them. It will also work with local health departments and distributors to eliminate instances of wasting the vaccine.

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