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The COVID-19 vaccine: when will Utahns have access?

In this photo provided by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, clinical research coordinator Tammy Lewis-McCauley administers an injection to Katelyn Evans, a trial participant, as part of the hospital’s clinical trial of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. (Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — News of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, which has shown to be more than 90% effective, raises questions about how and when Utahns will have access to it.

But the announcement Monday does not answer key questions about whether the Pfizer vaccine can prevent the most severe cases or stamp out the coronavirus pandemic.

Rich Lakin, immunizations director of the Utah Department of Health, will lead the effort for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine (when available), and joined Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic to discuss what the distribution will look like for Utahns.

Light at the end of the pandemic

After a rough year, Dave said he was “euphoric” over the news about the vaccine development.

Lakin called the vaccine’s 90% rate of safety and effectiveness — if it turns out to be true — “a very significant mark.”

“When will they start trucking the vaccine to Utah, Rich?” Debbie asked.

Lakin said the five hospitals that treat the most Utahns with COVID-19 can expect vaccine delivery about mid-November; those hospitals will store the vaccine in their ultra-cold freezers.

He said the vaccine will remain in the freezers until the ACIP ensures it is safe and effective.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) comprises medical and public-health experts who develop recommendations on using vaccines for US citizens.

Utahns and a COVID-19 vaccine timeline

When ACIP approves the vaccine, the health-care workers at the five hospitals will be immunized against the virus by mid-December, Lakin said. In January, more hospitals will begin receiving the vaccine, he said.

By February, long-term care facilities will begin to receive the vaccine.

People with underlying medical conditions and those 65 years or older will begin receiving the vaccine beginning in March and into April.

Beginning in May and continuing into June, all Utahns can start receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, Lakin said.

By July, it will be available to private doctors and pharmacies, he added.

When can students return to school?

“One of our listeners wants to know how long these immunizations will last?” Debbie asked. “Will we have to get them every year like we do the flu shot?”

“Yeah, we don’t know that yet,” Lakin said, adding determining the length of protection given by the vaccine will be part of the data reviewed by the ACIP.

“Some of our listeners are wanting to know will this vaccine be required for kids to return to schools in the fall?” Debbie asked.

“No, it will not be required for them to return in the fall. We do not know the age group yet for the vaccine,” Lakin said. “For me to make a determination, I would say that this vaccine right now will probably be for 18 and older, and it probably won’t be for kids in schools, but again, we don’t know what the vaccine has been approved for and what age group yet.”

The age of the participants in the clinical trials will determine who receives the vaccine, Lakin said,

For example, if kids were not part of the clinical trials, there won’t be data showing how children respond to the vaccine, he said.

The more the better

“Are there other vaccines that are close that would, again ,help ease the burden and get more people immunized quickly?” Dave asked.

“That’s a great question. So there is another vaccine, and it’s probably only about a month behind Pfizer and that’s the Moderna vaccine,” Lakin said.

Moderna told investors Oct. 29 that it was “actively preparing” for the global launch of its potential vaccine after completing enrollment in its 30,000-person trial a week earlier. About 37% of the people in the trial are from diverse communities, the company said as reported by CNBC.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, a.s well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person, similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States