All Utahns 16 and older eligible for vaccination starting Wednesday (updated)
Scheduling to open on Wednesday, though it may be weeks before some can get an appointment
Gov. Spencer Cox on Thursday announced that every Utahn 16 years or older will be eligible to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment starting Wednesday.
That is one week sooner than previously indicated and came, he said, as the number of unfilled vaccine appointments was starting to climb.
“Wednesday of next week, we will authorize vaccination for every adult in the state,” Cox said during a monthly news conference. “… This is a significant movement in timing. It also means that there will not be vaccine available for everyone in the state next week, I want to be very clear about that. It may take a few weeks for you to be able to schedule an opportunity to get vaccinated.”
Cox said that he expected the number of doses the state receives to increase in coming days, especially the vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, which only requires one shot.
Until next week, the only people eligible to receive a shot are those who are 50 years or older, people with specific medical conditions and those who work in certain fields including teachers and healthcare workers.
Cox asked people to wait until next week to schedule appointments to avoid crashing websites and clogging phone hotlines before administrators have a chance to bolster those services.
He also implored Utahns not to “appointment shop” or make multiple appointments and only show up to the first available slot. That can cause administrators to scramble to find vaccine recipients and can potentially lead to wasted doses, officials have said. They ask people to cancel any appointment they cannot attend and have said an appointment is equal to a dose.
Cox said he was asked by state and local health departments to broaden eligibility to allow caregivers to pursue vaccination drives in hard-to-reach communities and to keep demand for appointments strong.
Next week, about 15% of appointments are unfilled, he said. Cox has long pursued a strategy of spurring demand for vaccines by broadening eligibility. Originally, he said it was a bid to get more supply from the federal government by demonstrating Utah’s proficiency in disseminating the doses. On Thursday, he said Utah was sixth in the nation for the percentage of doses administered.
Utah does not fare well on most lists comparing states’ vaccination efforts, something Cox has said is due to the state’s rapidly growing and young population. As the youngest state, Utah has a higher percentage of its population ineligible to be vaccinated than any other. The vaccine manufactured by Pfizer is the only one cleared for those 16 and older, while the vaccines manufactured by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are approved for use in those 18 and older.
Cox noted that more than 1 million Utahns had received at least one vaccine dose, a milestone passed last weekend, and that new case numbers are at their lowest point since mid-September.
“We are really happy with where things are right now,” Cox said. “We are seeing case counts go down and vaccines go up. That is great news.”
The situation locally is strong, as well, with nearly half of adults in Summit County — 47% — having received at least one dose of a vaccine against COVID-19.
Cox announced Thursday that Summit County was transitioning to the less strict “moderate” level of transmission, indicating the improving state of the pandemic locally.
The statewide mask mandate remains in place, though lawmakers have forwarded a bill to the governor that would end that mandate April 10. As of Friday, Cox had not signed the bill into law.
Cox said Thursday that he has not been vaccinated but that he would seek a vaccine once the age limitations are lowered.
“Businesses still have the opportunity to require masks in their places of business and we all have the ability to wear masks ourselves,” he said. “… I’m going to continue to wear a mask until I’m fully vaccinated.”
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The CDC recommends vaccinated people wear masks in indoor public settings in Summit County, a step backward precipitated by the rise in cases tied to the more-transmissible Delta variant.