Pinebrook man is among first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Utah
County resident receives vaccine, county itself soon to receive doses
When he bared his left arm around 10 a.m. Thursday, Dr. Bert Lopansri became one of the first Summit County residents to receive a COVID-19 vaccine shot, starting the process toward inoculation against the virus that has wreaked havoc, relatively unchecked, for nine months.
Lopansri, a Pinebrook resident, is associate medical director for infectious diseases and medical director for microbiology for Intermountain Healthcare. He has seen firsthand the physical and mental effects of the coronavirus on patients at Intermountain facilities, and he’s also seen the effects on staff members he oversees, who have kept up a breakneck pace for months.
For health care providers, Lopansri said, this pandemic has felt like a marathon with no end in sight and no clear sign of progress. But he said receiving the vaccine felt like the first step in a new phase.
“I feel very fortunate to be in a position where I can get this vaccine,” Lopansri said in an interview Thursday morning. “To me, we have a very long way to go. I think not much will be changing about how I am approaching things at home or at the hospital or at the workplace or office.”
He said he wasn’t feeling any symptoms from the vaccine, but that he expected to perhaps feel some fatigue or soreness in his arm.
Lopansri’s work as a health care provider at one of the state’s main hospitals battling COVID-19 placed him in what Utah health officials refer to as the first wave of the first phase of vaccine disbursement.
The first doses sent to Utah are going to health care workers at the five hospitals dedicated to treating COVID patients, most of which are on the Wasatch Front, according to Chris Crowley, the Summit County staffer heading the county’s vaccine distribution efforts.
Crowley expects Summit County will receive its first shipment of the vaccine the week of Dec. 28, which will be at least 100 doses of the vaccine manufactured by Moderna. That vaccine was expected to receive federal emergency use authorization as early as Friday.
Lopansri received a dose of the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer, which, like the Moderna-made vaccine, requires two doses.
The first vaccine doses that arrive in Summit County, Crowley said, will go to Park City Hospital staff members who did not receive a shot from the initial shipment. From there, Crowley described an intricate prioritization system that involves three waves in each of the first two phases, five levels of exposure risk and an incredible amount of logistical work.
“I literally have phone books of information on my desk, daily,” Crowley said Thursday.
He said all of the plans he and his team are designing depend on how many doses the county receives, which remains an unknown variable. The state has released estimates of how many doses it expects to receive, and Crowley said those estimates show the numbers increasing through the spring.
At some point — Crowley estimates around March or April — the situation will reach an inflection point when supply meets demand, and the county can begin to order as many doses as it needs to inoculate its citizens. That’s when he anticipates the county will set up three mass vaccination sites.
In the meantime, the state has released detailed guidelines about who will receive the initial limited supply of vaccine and when, Crowley said.
He said the second wave of people to receive vaccines will include hospital staffers that didn’t receive the initial dose as well as health care support staff who will help disseminate the vaccine. Locally, that would include county health department staffers and those who work at the People’s Health Clinic, which is aiding in the vaccine distribution effort.
He estimated that wave would last through February and indicated it would also include the area’s teachers. Protective service workers, a category that includes police officers and firefighters, as well as security personnel like those who staff the Summit County Jail, would receive the vaccine at virtually the same time, Crowley said.
Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that teachers could begin to be vaccinated as soon as January.
Crowley said that the state guidelines do not specifically reference elected officials, instead giving preference to workers who would aid in maintaining public infrastructure, like public works crews and other government employees who interact directly with members of the public.
“Not that I would say our elected officials are unimportant, but unless they’re pushing a shovel, I would choose a Public Works (staffer),” Crowley said, referencing the need to keep vaccination sites open and the roads clear for vaccine deliveries during the snowy spring months.
For Lopansri and others on the front lines, mass vaccination can’t come soon enough.
“We’re in the midst of a pretty unprecedented pandemic (and) there is absolutely no end in sight,” he said. “… Since the (fall), things have just gotten worse.” He spoke of the record amount of deaths being reported and the need to follow health guidelines.
“It is more important now than ever to take appropriate precautions to prevent transmission,” Lopansri said. “Because every infection that occurs is preventable, every death that occurs is preventable, every prolonged lengthy hospitalization is preventable.”
He said he didn’t think twice about getting a vaccine, that as an infectious disease doctor, it was second nature to fight communicable disease by getting a vaccine when one is available.
“I owe it to the patients I see, owe it to my family, owe it to the people who took the risk to volunteer for these vaccine studies,” Lopansri said. “ … This is a next step in a very, very long marathon. There is a very long way to go. I think people should be optimistic and hopeful, but people should not let their guard down right now.”
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