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Distribution update: COVID-19 vaccine shipments begin to arrive in Utah

Intermountain Medical Center in Murray. (PHOTO: KSL TV)

MURRAY, Utah — With shipments of COVID-19 vaccine expected to arrive in Utah starting Monday, local hospitals rolled out a “tiered-distribution process” to provide vaccines to health care workers. 

COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Utah

Intermountain Healthcare held a video news briefing Monday morning to update the schedule and distribution plan for the COVID-19 vaccine. Those updates included information about who gets priority for vaccination as well as information about hospital capacity. 

Intermountain officials said Utah Valley Hospital in Provo and LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City had received their first COVID-19 vaccine doses Monday by 10:30 a.m. Two additional Intermountain facilities, Intermountain Medical Center in Murray and Dixie Regional Hospital in St. George, expected to receive doses soon. The fifth hospital in the state that should receive shipments of COVID-19 vaccine today or tomorrow will be University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. 

At Intermountain, officials said health care workers should start receiving vaccines as soon as Wednesday. 

Optimism and hope

Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, infections diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare, noted the U.S. marked 296,000 deaths from COVID-19 before the announcement Monday. 

“Of those deaths, 1,055 are our fellow Utahns. More deaths will come, more deaths will follow these. But we come to you today with optimism and hope,” Stenehjem said. “Today signals the beginning of the end of this pandemic here in Utah.” 

Stenehjem described the vaccine as safe and effective, and said to have developed it in 11 months is a major achievement for medical science. 

He acknowledged many patients have questions about the vaccine, including whether it will protect them long-term or require yearly boosters, although Stenehjem doubts it.

He said, “The reason influenza is an annual vaccine is due to the constant shifting of the [influenza] virus.”

Once the hospitals get the vaccine, they don’t have a lot of time to distribute each dose.  After the materials are thawed, they’re put into a fluid then placed into individual syringes.  After the doses are thawed, workers will only have six hours to administer the vaccine.  Stenehjem says that’s because they’re made with RNA.

“The nature of RNA is relatively unstable, meaning it will degrade quickly,” he said.

Representatives of Intermountain expect 23 thousand doses to arrive in Utah, and even though Intermountain is getting the first of them, health care officials say the vaccines will be spread to smaller clinics and facilities.  The University of Utah is expecting to get them Tuesday.

Stenehjem says they expect Moderna to be able to ship their vaccines soon.  He says the FDA is meeting to discuss how safe effective that vaccine is this week.

“The FDA with then, likely, rapidly turn around an EUA (Emergency Use Authorization) for the Moderna vaccine, which then would allow shipping of the Moderna vaccine shortly thereafter,” according to Stenehjem.

Who gets the first doses?

The shots won’t be given to Intermountain workers until Wednesday afternoon.  Doctor Kristin Dascomb says they needed time to train as many doctors and nurses as they could to distribute it.  When vaccines begin, she says they know exactly who gets top priority.

“These would include those who work on our COVID units, our ICU care doctors, nurses and technicians, those who work on medical units and those who work in our environmental services and deal with COVID waste,” she said.

Intermountain is scheduling these appointments with their employees so they don’t have a rush of people trying to get vaccinated all at once.  The medicine isn’t mandatory, but Dascomb expects 70 percent of their workforce to get it.  Those that do will be monitored for symptoms like fever or body aches, and will be allowed to stay home if they feel too ill.

State health officials have already recommended police, teachers, fire fighters, correctional officers, tribal members and people over the age of 65 be next in line to get the vaccine, after health care workers.  After that, the vaccines will be available for the general public.

Dascomb said, “We’re anticipating in the second quarter of the new year that we will open it up to our community, somewhere between March and June.”

Can someone “cut in line” to get vaccinated?

Is there any way for someone who isn’t a health care worker to get the vaccine before the rest of the general public?  Short answer… no.  Utah Department of Health Immunization Director Rich Lakin says they prioritized health care workers for a specific reason.

“Health care workers are seeing the sick patients,” Lakin said.  “They’re the ones that have the highest exposure”

Lakin says UDOH has been focused on distributing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but other drug makers have their vaccine in the works.  For instance, Johnson and Johnson is in the process of making one, but Lakin says they don’t know as much about that vaccine since it’s a month or more from being ready.

He says there’s really only one thing that would speed up the process for everyone else.

“The more vaccine we have, the more we can open it up to the general public,” Lakin said.

 


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).
  • Obtain 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