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Cox Comes Out Swinging With Aggressive Plan For COVID Vaccine Distribution

Gov. Spencer J. Cox speaks during a COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Deseret News
Gov. Spencer Cox announced sweeping changes to the state’s vaccine distribution program during a press conference Friday.

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.

The state currently has more than 161,000 doses of the vaccine in its possession according to the Utah Department of Health’s online dashboard. But so far only around 77,000 doses — including the second one — have been administered. Cox said because of reporting delays, the number administered is likely closer to 90,000.

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.

COVID-19 Treatments

Cox also announced a new effort to bring down COVID-19 deaths in long term care facilities. Going forward, any time there is an outbreak at one, the Utah Department of Health will send a team to administer monoclonal antibodies treatments to sick residents. It’s a drug that works well on people who are not sick enough to be hospitalized and can prevent serious illness from the coronavirus. President Donald Trump received it after he tested positive in October.

Surging Cases

While the distribution of vaccines is exciting, Cox said, the state is still in the midst of a post-holiday surge and people need to take social distancing and testing seriously.

“Knowing now that grandma and grandpa, anyone over the age of 70 over the next few weeks will be able to get their vaccine — let's let's keep them alive during this time,” he said. “My hope is that that sense of optimism, knowing that the end is in sight, will encourage all of us to make the sacrifices necessary.”

He said there are no plans to make changes to current public health policies right now, but hopes that cases will start to go down now that holiday gatherings are over.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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