Editor’s note: This story will be updated to include the latest information for Utah’s vaccine rollout plan.
SALT LAKE CITY — 2020 was dominated by the worldwide spread of the deadly novel coronavirus; 2021 will be dominated by the vaccine created to fight the virus.
Utah’s vaccine distribution will be handled at a county level, meaning each resident’s experience will be different depending on where they live.
Vaccine distribution will likely vary per county, which Gov. Spencer Cox said is OK. While it might seem easier to rollout vaccines at a state level, Cox said that would actually slow the process down and doing it on a county level has allowed them to speed the process up.
“That’s the only way we could do this, it’s the only way we could simplify it is to do it by geographic region and to use the infrastructure that is already in place,” he said at a Monday news conference.
As Utah’s vaccine rollout starts to ramp up, with more groups eligible to receive doses this week, here’s a look at who can receive the vaccine and when you might be able to get one.
Who’s eligible now?
Those living or working in long-term care facilities can get vaccinated and should call their employer or facility administrator to schedule an appointment. Those in this category will likely get a shot at a pharmaceutical chain like CVS or Walgreens.
As of Monday, Jan. 11, all K-12 school teachers or staff in Utah are eligible and can contact their local school district or school administration for further information about vaccination rollout.
“Every school district is already working with their local health department to determine how that is going to be done and delivered,” Cox said Monday.
Additionally, all first responders and health care workers are eligible and they should contact their employers for further information. Non-hospital health care workers, like those working in clinics, pharmacies and dental offices, are also eligible to receive the vaccine.
Anyone who has had COVID-19 in the past 90 days is not eligible to get a vaccine, according to the state’s new plan. Reinfection of the disease is rare and Cox said vaccine doses will be reserved for people who haven’t had the disease.
Regardless of what group a person’s in, anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (or other illnesses) are asked to stay home to prevent disease spread.
Utahns older than 70 are eligible to receive the vaccine starting on Jan. 18. Vaccine distributions are being handled by local health departments and require residents to schedule their appointments ahead of time. Walk-in vaccinations will not be available and appointments might fill up quickly due to limited availability.
It will take several weeks to get through the state’s 70 and older population but once they are vaccinated, Cox said the next round will be announced likely sometime in the middle or end of February.
State health officials said they expect vaccinations to start rolling out to other age groups, people with certain underlying medical conditions, and those at higher risk sometime in March.
Utahns don’t need to get on a waiting list to be vaccinated. When a resident is eligible for vaccination, it will be available at many locations throughout a community, including local pharmacies and doctor’s offices, according to the state health department.
The state’s vaccine distribution timeline will change based on dosage availability. Currently, state officials predict the vaccine will be available to all Utahns by the summer of 2021 — but it’s possible that date could be moved up depending on how the first few waves of vaccinations go. According to the Utah Department of Health, vaccines could be widely available as early as April or as late as July.
Vaccine providers are required to report the number of COVID-19 vaccines on hand to Vaccine Finder, allowing residents to know where they can get a vaccine when they’re eligible.
What to expect
Anyone who gets vaccinated should receive a COVID-19 vaccination record card detailing which vaccine they got and when/where it was administered, according to the state health department. After getting the shot, patients are advised to wait 15-30 minutes before leaving in case they experience an allergic reaction that needs medical attention. Individuals will either receive the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, the only two to date which have been authorized for use in the country.
Information about the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can be found here and information about Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine can be found here.
Vaccinated individuals can register for v-safe, a vaccination health checker app by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that tells CDC officials about any side effects they experience. The app will also remind individuals to get their second dose, which is crucial to the vaccine’s efficacy.
Some local health departments, like the Southwest Utah Public Health Department and the Southeast Utah Public Health Department, have provided online forms patients can fill out and bring in ahead of time. Depending on what group someone is in, patients will typically need to bring an ID, proof of employment and wear a short-sleeve shirt.
Even after an individual has been vaccinated, health experts say they still need to wear a face covering, wash their hands and physically distant to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Can my life go back to normal after getting vaccinated?
In short, no. Individuals should think of the COVID-19 vaccine as another tool used to prevent disease spread, not as a free pass to continue living a pre-pandemic lifestyle — even if everyone you associate with has gotten vaccinated, explained Intermountain Healthcare Dr. Tamara Sheffield in a recent Q&A. While vaccinated individuals are more protected against the virus, there is still a risk they can contract and spread the virus.
“Whether a person has had no doses of vaccine, if they’ve one dose of vaccine and even if they’ve had two doses — we are going to need to make sure we still do the mitigating strategies that we have to prevent spread of infection,” Sheffield said. “That means we need to be masking, we need to be washing our hands, if we are having symptoms of illness we should not be around anybody else. If we know we have an infection or have been exposed, we need to quarantine and stay away from other individuals so we won’t be spreading disease to vulnerable individuals.”
“Until COVID has been essentially removed out of the community, we have got to keep doing all those other infectious disease spread-controlling activities,” she added.
Getting the vaccine will benefit the vaccinated individual but unless there is a large enough portion of the population who is vaccinated, the disease spread will not be under control. Additionally, Sheffield said that people who are vaccinated should keep in mind the vaccine works better in an environment where there’s less exposure to COVID-19.
“We are still going to be months out from having a good control over the spread of the infection because we have to have the time to get a large enough portion of the population protected,” she said. The vaccine gets someone’s immune systems primed up and ready to fight an infection, she noted.
Even in highly vaccinated populations, there can still be outbreaks of disease. It is possible and expected for patients to contract COVID-19 in between getting the first and even after the second shot of the vaccine.
“These are extraordinarily effective vaccines,” Sheffield said, while noting that no vaccine is 100% effective at preventing infection, it simply reduces the risk.
Those who receive both shots of the COVID-19 vaccine have reduced their risk of infection by 95%, but it’s still possible they can contract and spread the disease — hence why officials are advising individuals to continue taking recommended precautions like mask-wearing, hand washing and social distancing until a larger amount of the population can get vaccinated.
White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci recently estimated up to 90% of the population needs to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to achieve herd immunity and gain control over the virus.
Both vaccines currently available require two doses a few weeks apart. In order to become more protected from the virus, individuals must receive both doses. After the second dose, patients are about 95% protected from the novel coronavirus as opposed to 52% after the first dose.
Utahns eligible to become vaccinated will be able to schedule a vaccination appointment through their local health department. Those who do not qualify for the vaccine will be turned away. Cox said Monday that each health department should have vaccine registration available for eligible residents this week. The state’s goal is to increase vaccine administration and allow health districts to administer a minimum of 50,000 doses per week and possibly up to 100,000 weekly.
Here’s a look at how each health department is handling distribution:
- Box Elder, Cache, and Rich counties: 435-792-6500
Eligible residents can check for available vaccination appointments here. As of Tuesday, Jan. 12, all appointments had been filled but additional doses were expected to arrive between Jan. 19-25. Appointments cannot be made via phone.
Juab County: 435-623-0696
Sanpete County: 435-462-2449 or 435-835-2231
Millard County: 435-743-5723 or 435-864-3612
Piute County: 435-577-2521
Wayne County: 435-836-1317
Sevier County: 435-896-5451
Eligible residents can contact their local office to be notified when vaccine doses are available.
Eligible residents can schedule vaccination appointments here.
Starting on Wednesday, Jan. 13, eligible residents can click this link and register for a vaccination appointment. The county was experiencing issues with its registration link shortly after it went live, due to high traffic to the site, but the problems were later resolved. The department will not schedule appointments for vaccine doses they do not have.
The health department has requested those who are able to use the online form do so, in order to keep phone lines open for those without internet access or other circumstances inhibiting the use of the online form.
The health department is working to complete vaccinations for the San Juan School District personnel and then move into vaccine rollout for those older than 70, once they are eligible on Jan. 18.
As of Monday, Jan. 11, the health department’s website is down. Those looking for information can call the health department for more details.
- Price office: 435-637-3671
- Castle Dale office: 435-381-2252
- Moab office: 435-259-5602
Eligible residents can choose from three locations to get the vaccine and register here.
- Washington County office: 435-673-3528
- Iron County office: 435-586-2437
- Kane County office: 435-644-2537
- Beaver County office: 435-438-2482
- Garfield County office: 435-676-8800
Eligible residents can register to receive a vaccine here.
Residents can sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine notification system which will send an alert when doses are available but doesn’t schedule people for an appointment.
Eligible residents can register for a vaccine here. As of Monday, Jan. 11, registration was only open to those older than 70. The county is currently getting about 300-400 doses weekly.
Those over the age of 70 can call the health department at 435-277-2484 to make a vaccination appointment.
- Vernal office: 435-247-1177
- Roosevelt office: 435-722-6300
Information about the department’s vaccine registration wasn’t immediately available. According to its website, the TriCounty Health Department has received 800 vaccine doses and administered 419 as of Tuesday, Jan. 12.
Vaccine appointments will not be made for doses the department does not have. Eligible residents can click here to check appointment availability.
Residents can sign up for text alerts from the health department by texting UCHealth to 888777.
To make an appointment, eligible residents can call the Wasatch County COVID-19 Hotline at 435-657-3276 during business hours starting on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
- Morgan and Weber counties: 801-399-7777
Those older than the age of 70 can sign up to be placed on a notification list here. Once vaccine appointments are available, they will be contacted and will be able to register for a vaccine appointment.
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