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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

First Doses of COVID-19 Vaccine Arrive In Rural Utah Hospitals

A man sticks a syringe into the right arm of a seated woman.
Courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare.
Nurse manager Tessa Vasquez received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine administered at Heber Valley Hospital on Wednesday.

Hospital employees in Heber City and Park City became the first rural healthcare workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a statement Intermountain Healthcare released Wednesday.

Nurse manager Tessa Vasquez of Heber Valley Hospital was the first healthcare worker at either facility to receive the drug. She said the vaccine is critical not only for hospital employees and their families but also for the communities they serve.

It helps [healthcare workers] to be able to be here and not miss work because of being sick so that we have enough people to care for the community when they need it,” she said.

After close to a year of social distancing, wearing masks and rising case counts, the vaccine comes as a relief for healthcare workers feeling the effects of pandemic fatigue, said Doug Vogel, an emergency room physician who also works at Heber Valley Hospital.

“Getting the vaccine is just another line of defense so that we can stay vigilant and continue doing what we’re doing but also have that security knowing we’ve got another thing going for us,” he said.

As of this week, doses of the vaccine have now been delivered to every local health department in the state, according to Utah Department of Health spokesperson Tom Hudachko.

Hudachko said a shipment of the Moderna vaccine that arrived in Utah earlier this week has been a game-changer for rural hospitals.

“A lot of those hospitals lack the ultra-cold storage they would need to preserve the Pfizer vaccine,” he said. "Moderna’s really been the ticket in terms of being able to get it spread far and wide.”

Hudachko added the Moderna vaccine can be stored in a regular freezer and that more shipments expected in the coming weeks will only improve rural hospitals’ access to the drug.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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