Summit County readies three mass-vaccination sites, anticipating need this spring

The Summit County Courthouse.
Park Record file photo

Vaccines by the numbers

-76 to -112 — degrees, in Fahrenheit, at which the Pfizer vaccine must be stored

5 — hours in which the Pfizer vaccine must be used after it is removed from ultra-cold storage

340,000 — number of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines expected to arrive in Utah by the end of the year

2 — number of doses required for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be effective

21 — days that must pass between the first and second Pfizer doses

28 — days between Moderna doses

*Source: Summit County public health emergency coordinator

The latest estimate from state and local health officials is that all Utahns will have access to a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of July.

Gov. Gary Herbert said on Monday that the first vaccinations could begin in two to three weeks for health care workers, and indicated that all state residents could begin to receive the vaccine in March or April.

But there’s a lot of work to be done between now and then. Summit County’s staffer in charge of the vaccine rollout locally says the county is prepared to establish mass vaccination centers as early as December, but that it appears those won’t be needed until the spring.

Chris Crowley, the county’s public health emergency preparedness coordinator, said his office was working to fine-tune plans of where and how to deliver vaccines, even as information about how many doses will be available when — and who would receive them — are still unknown.

“I can’t predict exactly when vaccines will come into Summit County,” Crowley said in an interview Wednesday. “In Utah we could potentially see 225,000 doses of Pfizer, 115,000 of Moderna by the end of December.”

Crowley said vaccine distribution decisions will be made on federal and state levels. If there was a COVID outbreak in Illinois, for example, Utah might not receive as many doses at first; and if there was an outbreak in Wasatch County, fewer doses might come to Summit County.

There are also logistical and priority decisions that will impact early distribution, like the fact that the Pfizer vaccine comes in packages of 1,000 doses and that a facility would need an ultra-cold freezer to store them.

Summit County has such a freezer, Crowley said, recently obtained from a planetarium in Salt Lake City.

State and federal officials decide who will receive the first vaccine doses, and a Utah Department of Health official outlined preemptive plans at a briefing Nov. 18. The very first vaccines to come to the state are slated to go to the five hospitals that have been hardest hit by the pandemic in an effort to protect the state’s medical infrastructure, according to Rich Lakin, the Utah Department of Health immunization program manager. Those hospitals include four in the Wasatch Front and the Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George.

Crowley and Lakin both said that they were working with incomplete information and that the rollout would need to adapt to changes in vaccine availability and distribution.

“It is very difficult to plan when we don’t know how much vaccine we have,” Lakin said at the briefing.

Officials have broken the vaccine rollout into phases and waves or tiers — basically, categories of recipients based on risk factors including profession and health status combined with the amount of vaccine anticipated to be available.

Crowley said that, like much of the vaccine planning work, discussions about which people belong in which wave are ongoing.

Officials have consistently said that healthy adults aged 19 to 64 years old will be last in line to receive the vaccine. But determining who should receive the vaccine after the initial wave is still a matter of debate.

After the first distribution effort targets health care workers at the hardest hit hospitals, vaccines will then go to remaining health care workers, long-term care facilities and assisted living centers, according to the state briefing. That is anticipated to happen in January.

Next would come essential workers prioritized on their probability of contracting COVID-19, Lakin said. He said he would likely be a low priority to receive a vaccine, for example, because he can easily work from home, and people who have to interact with the public might receive vaccines before he would.

The state immunization chief indicated that the second phase, when vaccines could come to those outside of critical professions like first responders, would likely range from March to July.

Crowley explained that the county would assume a prominent role when vaccine production reaches a critical mass, when there are more vaccines available than can be easily distributed, thought likely to happen in the spring. That’s when he anticipated the county would invite hundreds or thousands of residents to one of three sites to receive a vaccination.

The second phase of vaccinations, which could begin in March, would be targeted to people older than 65, teachers and child care workers, at-risk racial and ethnic groups, and eventually other healthy adults, according to the briefing.

“It’s not going to be first-come, first-served,” Crowley said.

Crowley compared it to planning for an Olympic Games, something he has extensive experience doing. He said he and his team are breaking down processes into smaller parts without the details to fill in yet.

“Right now all we can do is build those foundational plans,” Crowley said. “We speculate we’ll have X number of vaccines: This is the way we’ll unpackage them and distribute them, this is the way we’ll alert the community, this is the way we’ll vaccinate high-risk categories and persons who have mobility issues. And once the critical planning is complete, then we can start doing the more detailed plans like safety, security and other functional areas.”

Crowley anticipates establishing three mass-vaccination centers this spring, one each in North Summit, South Summit and the west side of the county.

The county has spent about $500,000 in federal CARES Act money on vaccination preparation, according to a county official.

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