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Utah Health Care Workers Excited And Relieved To Be First To Take COVID-19 Vaccine

A group of doctors in protective gear holding bottles of a vaccine.
Health care workers at five of the state’s largest hospitals will be the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it is approved for emergency use.

Sarah Cookler is a physician assistant at the University of Utah’s emergency department. She spends a few shifts a month in its isolated COVID-19 unit and could be one of the first people in Utah to receive the vaccine.

Even though it was developed in less than a year — an unprecedented timeline — she said she has no reservations about taking it, especially because it’s really the only way out of this pandemic.

“If we're going to get through this now, and for the better good of the whole population, I think we need to take it,” Cookler said. “And I'm happy to be one of the first to do that.”

Utah officials are expecting close to 155,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of December. They will go first to frontline health care workers at five of the state’s largest hospitals, followed by other health care personnel in high-risk environments such as long term care facilities.

On Thursday, Gov. Gary Herbert announced that K-12 teachers and school staff will also be included in the first wave of vaccinations, with many hopefully receiving their first doses later this month.

While both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Federal Drug Administration maintain the COVID-19 vaccine would not be approved for wider use before ensuring it is safe and effective, convincing the general public of that is shaping up to be a more difficult task.

A recent survey from the Pew Research Center found that 60% of Americans said they would definitely or probably get the COVID-19 vaccine — up from 51% in September. But about 20% are “pretty certain” they won’t, even as more information becomes available. The majority of people surveyed — 62% — said they would be uncomfortable being among the first to take it.

Cookler said she’s heard some of her colleagues are hesitant about taking it first, but most are on board.

Dr. Joel Trachtenberg, an infectious disease specialist at a few hospitals along the Wasatch Front, including the Intermountain Medical Center, said almost every doctor and nurse he knows is feeling excited and relieved to take it. And he has zero misgivings about it.

“Really what it comes down to is risk and benefit,” Trachtenberg said. “The risks of getting COVID, which, as we all know, can be quite severe and the hope of actually opening up society faster and more fully. I think it's a no brainer.”

There are short term side effects expected with the vaccine — things like fatigue and pain where the shot was given — some have been reported as pretty severe. But Trachtenberg said those are normal reactions and signs the body is priming itself to protect from the virus.

He said the potential long term side effects aren’t really known, given the quick timeline, but vaccines in general are incredibly safe and historically have been the best way to control the spread of harmful viruses.

For anyone still wary of the COVID-19 vaccine, he said the fact that health care workers are lining up to take it should speak for itself.

“The health care workers and the experts who are working on this are not only truly experts in vaccines, medicine and infectious diseases, they're also going to be leading by example,” he said. “Nobody is asking the general public to do what they're not already going to do and do it first.”

Dr. Isaac Noyes, president of the Utah Academy of Family Physicians, said some degree of caution is normal and even healthy for anything that is new and quickly developed. But he said any concerns should be weighed against the evidence, which so far suggests the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective.

Given the degree to which people rebel against mask-wearing in Utah, he said there will probably be a fair amount of people who refuse to take the vaccine. But the question is if they are a big enough group to prevent the wider population from building up immunity.

“It's kind of like voting, right?” Noyes said. “If you look at the very self-serving view of it, ‘Does my vote really change the outcome of the general election?’ Probably not. But if enough people think that way, maybe it does sway things.”

Whatever an individual’s stance on the vaccine, he said It doesn’t change the broader messaging.

“If you care about your community and you want to get life back to normal and reopen businesses in a more robust way, this is the safest and quickest way,” he said.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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