Nearly 40% of Summit County residents 18 or older have had at least 1 vaccine shot
Health director says vaccine situation is better than expected
April 1 is marked on many mental calendars, the day state officials have indicated every adult Utahn will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
With fewer than three weeks before that date, Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough said the situation locally is better than he expected it would be, but there are still issues with vaccine supply and a cumbersome registration process, and an increasing worry about the potential to waste doses as more appointments go unfilled.
In an interview on the one-year anniversary of the first case in Summit County, Bullough said that nearly 40% of county residents 18 or older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“When I look out, my target date has always been late summer to when we would really be in a good situation as far as a large proportion of our population being vaccinated,” Bullough said. “I think it’s probably two months sooner than that. I’m now thinking June-ish. I feel really good about where we are.”
Gov. Spencer Cox has said he anticipates opening vaccine eligibility to every adult Utahn by April, though he has consistently offered the caveat that the date is contingent on everything working smoothly until then.
There have been recent hiccups in a process that has been consistently unpredictable, with an anticipated second delivery of vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson not arriving in the state following the first delivery two weeks ago.
“The most frustrating component right now is just the fact that the supply of vaccine from the feds hasn’t been particularly stable,” Bullough said.
State health officials indicated they anticipated a huge surge in doses by the end of March, estimating some 250,000 doses per week would flow into the state.
But Bullough said he has been told to temper those expectations and that the number of doses likely won’t be that high.
Cox said Thursday that the state is receiving about 150,000 doses per week and has the capacity to distribute 300,000. Bullough said around 1,600 doses are arriving in Summit County weekly — 800 first doses and 800 second doses.
Bullough anticipates an upcoming “blitz” in vaccine supply, with the Johnson & Johnson-manufactured dose expected to continue to arrive and the amount of Moderna-manufactured vaccine expected to increase.
“I think the infrastructure is in place, once we get significant increase of vaccine, we’re in pretty good shape,” Bullough said.
While the distribution network may be able to handle a surge, it’s unclear whether the online signup portals will. The day Cox expanded eligibility, the county’s website crashed for several hours, and Bullough said the federally managed web portal did, as well.
He said officials are looking at potential fixes like changing how the county’s website is hosted.
“We’re certainly going to get bombarded,” he said of the day vaccine eligibility broadens.
Bullough said officials are seeing evidence of people “appointment shopping,” making multiple appointments, showing up to the earliest one and not canceling the others. He said that, statewide, the average number of unfilled appointments is approaching 20%, though it’s lower than that in Summit County.
“That’s a real concern,” he said. “People need to understand an appointment is a dose.”
County clinic operators haven’t had to waste doses yet, but Bullough said it takes a team of a half-dozen people a few hours after the clinic closes to call around to find people to use the doses allocated for the day.
There is no standby or waiting list, Bullough said. Instead, clinic workers call people who already have appointments scheduled and ask them if they can come to the clinic that day, instead.
Asked to take a step back and assess the overall situation, Bullough said the county is in better shape than he expected it would be at this time. Though it remains in the high level of the state’s transmission index, the county has seen few serious cases recently, and marked improvement in case numbers among the populations that have already been vaccinated.
Public health officials say that when at least 70% of a population is inoculated against COVID-19, the group has reached herd immunity, and the pathogen will have a hard time causing another outbreak.
Bullough said the inoculation level already seen in the county “gets us a little more than halfway there,” counting the initial protection afforded to those who have received at least one dose of the vaccine and those who have already been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Officials have said they expect an inflection point when more vaccine would be available than public health clinics could handle, but Bullough said he doesn’t think distribution will become a limiting factor.
The county’s drive-thru facility can accommodate 600 vaccination appointments per day, the Park City Hospital mass vaccination clinic can handle at least 1,000, and there are private sector pharmacies like Smith’s and Walmart that have contracts with the federal government and are already distributing the vaccine.
If the county received more doses than it could dole out, Bullough said other pharmacies stand ready to help.
“If we had more doses, I think we’d have, for example, Fresh Market, they’re ready to go, they’re just waiting for vaccine,” he said. “… I think the partners are ready and willing and we’re just waiting for more vaccine.”
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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.