Summit County Board of Health members say vaccinations have become political
Unvaccinated people provide ‘swamp’ for variants to grow, official says
This is the last week for eligible students to get a COVID-19 vaccine to achieve full immunity by the time school starts in mid-August. On Monday, Summit County Board of Health officials had a wide-ranging discussion about how to improve vaccination levels in teens ahead of a school year that could once again be marred by the pandemic, but one that will not include mandatory mask-wearing, barring a reversal from state officials.
No vaccine is approved for those younger than 12, but Board of Health officials indicated that federal officials could grant emergency use authorization to vaccinate children ages 6 to 11 this fall.
The long-running COVID narrative has been that the disease does not pose a substantial health risk to children.
Health Director Rich Bullough shared data with the board he said he received from the deputy director of the Utah Department of Health, Michelle Hofmann.
Since the pandemic began, nearly 81,000 Utahns 18 and under have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Of that group, 729 were hospitalized, 45 required intensive care, 80 developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome and two died.
Bullough said he had not seen the data before this week.
“Over 700 hospitalizations under the age of 18. The assumption that this disease does not affect youth, that number would argue against that,” he said.
28,308 – number of Summit County residents who are fully vaccinated
5,316 – eligible Summit County residents who have not received any doses
30 – number of doses the county health department gives weekly
35 – number of breakthrough cases of COVID-19 reported in the county
*Source: Summit County
Data released by the county shows that 25% of East Side children aged 12-15 have received a first dose of the vaccine compared to 66% on the West Side. The disparity is similar in those who have completed a full course of vaccination, with 17% having done so on the East Side and 53% on the West.
The discussion came amid a statewide surge in COVID cases that Bullough said has largely spared Summit County.
The county continues to average about 3.6 new cases per day, Bullough said, apparently driven in large part by the new Delta variant of the virus, though it may take weeks to identify the genetic sequence of many of the cases.
There have been 35 breakthrough cases in the county, in which someone tests positive for COVID after being fully vaccinated. Of those cases, three have been hospitalized.
Summit County recently moved from “low” to “moderate” on the state’s transmission index. The county boasts the best vaccination rate in the state, with 88% of those 12 or older receiving at least one dose and 78% completely vaccinated, according to county numbers.
Nursing Director Derek Moss said that 5,316 Summit County residents who are eligible to receive a vaccine had not done so. That’s 12.5% of the county’s total population, according to 2019 census estimates.
On Monday the board discussed ways to improve those numbers, with Bullough noting a discrepancy in vaccination rates between the East Side and West Side.
He said the issue of vaccinations had become political.
Board Member Chris Ure, a rancher on the East Side, said the way to increase vaccination rates was for the government and media to stop politicizing the issue and scaring people.
“A lot of people I know, they’ll go get a flu shot. They’ll be damned if they’re going to get a COVID shot because the government is telling them they need to go get one,” he said.
He called it a personal choice whether or not to get a vaccine. In an interview after the meeting, Ure said it should be the Health Department’s goal for the county to reach herd immunity against COVID-19, but not by trying to coerce people into getting vaccinated.
“It is just nothing more than us losing our freedoms that the government’s saying we have to be vaccinated,” he said. “People have a right to choose whether they want to be vaccinated.”
He told the board that he’d heard several rumors about the vaccine and that some on the East Side doubt its safety. But he characterized much of the vaccine resistance to a broader political feeling that governments take away personal freedom.
“The mindset on the East Side is there’s no way in God’s green earth I’m going to be controlled by the government,” he said. “With everything that’s happening in Summit County, especially on the East Side with the growth and everything else, and the flexing of the muscles, not from the Health Department but from other departments, people are about ready to bring pitchforks and shovels to the party and start bashing heads, because it’s getting pretty ugly over there.”
Ure added he did not support a vaccine protest that occurred in Kamas earlier this year, in which protesters reportedly tried to intimidate people seeking the vaccine.
County health officials indicated Monday that once the COVID vaccines receive full authorization from the federal Food and Drug Administration, rather than the emergency use authorization they are currently under, more people might opt for the vaccine.
Board member Doug Evans disagreed.
“They’ll say ‘We’re waiting for government approval, but we don’t trust the government,’” Evans said. “That’s where it doesn’t square up with me. I don’t think the full FDA approval is going to do anything.”
Evans went on to say that unvaccinated individuals create fertile ground for the virus to mutate. Already, several mutations have become more virulent, including the Delta variant, which officials have said makes up 80% of Utah’s cases and is twice as contagious as the original virus.
Evans called the state’s vaccine rate “embarrassing.”
“If we’re not going to take precautions, this is the swamp that is going to create new variants. These are how the variants progress: It’s by us not taking this that serious,” Evans said. “They’re constantly evolving into different things. Most of them do die out, but every once in a while in this pool, some of these get out and they’re very prolific. And it’s our own fault. That’s what’s sad about it. We could have been on top of this.”
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Residents will be able to weigh in regarding the hotly disputed proposal to build a large mixed-use development at the site of the Tech Center. The hearing is set for 6 p.m. at the Newpark Resort conference center.