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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.

Around A Third Of Those Eligible For The COVID-19 Vaccine In Southeast Utah Have Opted Out

A woman in scrubs and a mask leans into a car window.
Kate Groetzinger
A healthcare worker at the Utah Navajo Health System Clinic in Montezuma Creek gives a shot during a COVID-19 vaccine drive through event.

All healthcare workers and teachers in Utah are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But public health directors in the southeast part of the state said around a third of them are opting out.

Brandon Bradford directs the Southeast Utah Health Department, which includes Emery Carbon and Grand Counties. The health department is in charge of vaccinating non-hospital health workers and all school staff and teachers.

And he said only between 50-60% of non-hospital healthcare workers opted to get the vaccine, and only 60-70% of school staff and teachers.

“It is a little lower than I would have guessed,” Bradford said. “For teachers, it seems like what we anticipated, because we had gone through a couple weeks of vaccinating healthcare workers and seen their response.”

Bradford said vaccine uptake by healthcare workers was slightly higher in Grand than in Carbon or Emery counties. And the Moab Regional Hospital vaccinated 82% of its staff, including everyone who works with patients, according to hospital CEO Jennifer Sadoff.

In San Juan County, only around half of teachers surveyed by the school district said they would get the vaccine, according to public health director Kirk Benge.

“It seemed like there was a large group that maybe were a little more hesitant, not that they wouldn’t get it but that they weren’t super eager. Maybe they were younger or didn’t feel at risk,” he said.

Benge added that residents in the northern part of San Juan County were more hesitant to get the vaccine than those in the south, potentially because the virus has not been as deadly in Monticello and Blanding than on the Navajo Nation.

The Utah Navajo Health System, which operates three clinics on the Navajo Nation and one in Blanding, said over 90% of its employees planned to get vaccinated.

These early reports track with the results of a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that around a third of Americans living in rural areas are unlikely to get the vaccine, despite the fact that more people are dying from the virus now in rural areas.

Experts have said between 60-70% of the world’s population will need to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity, which would prevent future outbreaks of COVID-19. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has recently said the number could be between 75-85%.

And while Bradford said he expects around a third of the population in his region to opt out of the vaccine once it becomes available to everyone, Benge said he anticipates interest in the vaccine will increase in San Juan County as more people become vaccinated.

Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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