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Health, Science & Environment

The Latest On The COVID-19 Vaccine In Utah

doctor holding bottle vial of covid-19 vaccine injection vaccination immunization anti coronavirus disease
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As Utah prepared to receive its first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Gary Herbert announced the state has changed its vaccination plan to give teachers higher priority than originally planned. Herbert estimated teachers should be able to get vaccinated by the end of December or early January after frontline healthcare workers.

The first COVID-19 vaccine doses have arrived in Utah. Here's what we know so far.

Utah hospitals received their first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 14 and began vaccinating employees the next day.

The state is currently in its first phase of vaccine distribution, which includes hospital health care workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, non-hospital health care workers and public health and tribal health care workers.

Utah hospitals received their first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 14 and began vaccinating employees the next day.

The state is currently in its first phase of vaccine distribution, which includes hospital health care workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, non-hospital health care workers and public health and tribal health care workers.

In his first COVID-19 press conference as governor, Spencer Cox announced he will issue an executive order with an aggressive plan for vaccine distribution across the state.

“It’s unacceptable to have vaccines sitting on shelves,” Cox said.

Speeding Up Distribution

Per his executive order, local health districts will handle distribution going forward, and eligible Utahns will be able to sign up to get a vaccine through their local health department.

“These are changes that will simplify the process and make it easier for all Utahns to know when they can get the vaccine, where they can get the vaccine, and to make sure that they are getting the vaccine and vaccines are not sitting on the shelf,” he said.

Cox's executive order requires organizations to distribute their vaccines within a week of receiving it. If they don't, their inventory will be reduced, “and extra doses will be taken and redistributed,” Cox said.

The idea is to administer the vaccine quickly in order to qualify for more from the federal government, speeding up the timeline for everyone.

“It's hard to argue that we should be getting more when we're not using the vaccine that we have already received,” he said.

Timeline Changes

The vaccine will be available to teachers starting next week, and to people over the age 70 on January 18. Cox promised that anyone in either of those groups that wants to be vaccinated will be by the end of February.

According to Cox, 153 out of 353 long term care facilities in the state have been vaccinated through partnerships with national pharmacies. He said the pharmacies have promised him that they will finish vaccinating every facility by Jan. 23. People who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days will not be eligible, because they have antibodies from fighting the disease.

Cox said the state will also focus on making vaccines available in minority communities, which have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 since March.

“We must take extra caution not to make the same mistakes we made early in the early in the pandemic without having testing sites available in those areas,” he said.

Some experts have suggested that, in order to reach widespread immunity faster, states should distribute first doses of the vaccine to more people and hold off on administering the second one. Cox said there’s no plan to do that in Utah yet.

“We will not do that as a state until there is a consensus,” he said.

Safety And Effectiveness

Vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have been approved for emergency use by the Federal Drug Administration. Clinical trials found each to be close to 95% effective at preventing patients from developing COVID-19 symptoms after two doses, given 21 and 28 days apart, respectively.

There are short term side effects expected with each vaccine — things like fatigue and pain where the shot was given — some of which have reportedly been pretty severe in some patients. But infectious disease specialist Dr. Joel Trachtenberg said those are normal reactions and signs the body is priming itself to protect from the virus.

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

Should You Take It?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone get the vaccine, even if they are at high risk for serious complications or have already had COVID-19. Dr. Anthony Fauci said that somewhere between 70-90% of the U.S. would need to get vaccinated in order to develop herd immunity, when enough of the population is immune to a disease that those who are not are still protected.

And while some people may be skeptical of the vaccine, Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease specialist with Intermountain Healthcare, said the science is sound.

“We all feel that this vaccine is safe and effective,” he said. “We feel that this vaccine needs to be deployed in our health care settings and in our communities as soon as possible.”

Corrected: December 15, 2020 at 9:43 AM MST
A previous version of this story misstated the amount of time between doses for the Moderna vaccine.
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