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UDOH rolls out plan for vaccine distribution

SALT LAKE CITY – State health officials have revealed their plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.  And they’re releasing more details about when Utahns may have access to a vaccine.

But there’s one problem: health officials say it’s hard to solidify their vaccine distribution plans before the vaccine has been approved, so things may not go exactly as they’d like.  Immunizations Director Rich Lakin said if 10 million doses are released across the country, Utah can expect to get roughly 100,000.

“We will receive 1% of the [total vaccines] because they’re going to base it on population,” Lakin said.

(Immunizations Director Rich Lakin, speaking at a press conference November 18, 2020. Credit: Paul Nelson)

Two vaccine doses are needed

However, patients will need two doses of the vaccine for it to be fully potent, and the need for the second dose could alter the state’s plans.  Lakin said they won’t be able to promise to deliver all of the first doses if they only have a limited number of the second.

“If there [are] 100,000 [doses] coming and we know we’re committed to another 100,000 [of the second dose] we can start vaccinating at 100,000 because we know we can meet the second dose,” he said.

So far, only five hospitals in Utah are “onboard” or ready to receive the vaccines and properly store them in containers that are capable of reaching extremely cold temperatures.  They are LDS Hospital and University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, and Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George.  Utah Department of Health Spokesman Tom Hudachko said they’re working to get more hospitals and clinics ready, soon.

“We’re now in the process of working with 30 additional hospitals to ‘onboard’ them,” he said.

Who is first in line for vaccine distribution?

The vaccine will be distributed in waves.  Hudachko said the first people to get them will be urgent care and ICU workers, healthcare workers with pre-existing conditions, and the housekeeping staff of the hospitals mentioned above.

Waves two and three are expected to arrive in January.  With those doses, health officials will vaccinate all of the remaining hospital staff as well as long-term care facility employees that weren’t treated in the first wave of vaccinations.

After that, waves four and five will vaccinate people who worked with the state government to treat hospital workers.

General public timeline

Phase two of the Utah Department of Health’s plan is expected to start in March 2021.  That’s when the rest of the general public will get a chance to receive the vaccine.  Top priority will go to…

  • Tribal entities
  • People 65 years of age and older
  • Workers at high-risk jobs like teachers, childcare employees, and people who work in personal care
  • At-risk racial/ethnic groups and people with underlying medical conditions
  • Other at-risk individuals

By July 2021, everyone who wanted to receive a vaccine will have been given the opportunity to receive one.  Hudachko said he realizes that the timeline may seem confusing, but he also said he and his staff will do everything they can to make things more clear.

“ is going to be a great resource for vaccine information,” he said. “We’ll have information on there on who is getting the vaccine, and when.”

Assurances of safety during vaccine distribution

Hudachko said the Utah Department of Health wants to assure everyone the vaccine will be completely safe, if it’s approved by the FDA and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. He said neither of the companies making the vaccine is skipping any steps in quality assurance.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is no different.  The process has been sped up, but it has not changed, at all,” Hudachko said.

Since the vaccine comes in two doses, Hudachko said people will need to be vigilant and remember to get both shots.

“It’s going to be up to the individuals who get the vaccine and up to the health care providers that administer the vaccine to make sure that people know when they need to come back and get the second dose,” he said.

Other health officials say once people get vaccinated, they shouldn’t believe everything will go back to normal the next day.  They say people will still need to wear masks and keep their distance while the country goes through the vaccination process.

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.
  • Wear a mask to protect yourself and others per CDC recommendations.
  • 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