Summit County, citing a vaccine shortage, is still working to inoculate teachers and first responders as older residents await shots
County still working through highest priority groups
Despite the optimism around COVID-19 vaccines stemming from their effectiveness and the record-setting time in which they were developed, one fact cuts through the proclamations and timelines made by state and federal officials: There aren’t enough doses to go around.
“We simply don’t have the vaccine,” Summit County Health Director Rich Bullough said Tuesday during a meeting with a group of Summit County mayors. “… We don’t have vaccine to an adequate extent to meet what’s being described publicly by the Governor’s Office.”
Summit County has started scheduling appointments for residents 70 and older, but is inviting only 20 seniors per day to register while it continues to work through the highest priority groups identified by the state, including health care providers and educators.
A county spokesperson said that the Health Department is limiting the number of invitations each day to 20 so that staffers can help seniors navigate the online portal, which has been a time-consuming process.
The county is hearing from older residents who find it hard to register for the vaccine, with a federal system that requires them to enter an email address and navigate the entire process online.
The county is not limiting the amount of vaccine available to residents 70 and older, a group of about 3,000, who are now added to the ranks of the roughly 1,000 teachers and first responders who have yet to receive the vaccine.
Officials indicated inoculating those groups wouldn’t be completed until the end of February.
The spokesperson said that the first appointment for a resident 70 or older was scheduled for Jan. 29.
County officials indicated staffers have called each of the 20 seniors invited to schedule an appointment each day to walk them through the online portal, calls that can take up to an hour each.
Bullough said federal officials have indicated they’re close to rolling out a simpler interface, but that they’ve made the same claim for weeks.
County staffers said privacy laws and idiosyncrasies particular to the software prevent staffers from simply calling the seniors and entering the information themselves.
– Vaccine registration can be found at summitcountyhealth.org/vaccine/. Residents must register online to receive a vaccine.
– Those eligible to receive a vaccine, including residents 70 and older, should be on the lookout for an email from email@example.com, which will include a link to schedule an appointment.
– Only around 20 people from that age group will receive that invitation each day as the county continues to vaccinate other priority groups, including teachers and first responders.
– There are nearly 3,000 seniors registered to receive a vaccine, so it may be weeks before all seniors receive an invitation to schedule a vaccine appointment.
– County staffers will call seniors to help them navigate the online sign-up portal. They ask seniors to have at the ready their insurance information, a list of their medications and a pen and paper.
– Summit County has a COVID-19 hotline for questions regarding the vaccine registration that can be reached from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 435-333-0050.
Source: Summit County
The state has been distributing about 400 doses of vaccine to Summit County each week, but there are thousands of residents among the groups that are eligible to receive a shot. Bullough has said the county has the capacity to deliver at least three times as many doses as it is receiving.
The county is using all of the doses it receives each week, and the appointment calendar for the drive-thru vaccination site at Utah Film Studios is full into February.
Bullough also indicated the county is looking for a more permanent clinic site, as the arrangement with the film studio is not indefinite.
Bullough on Tuesday said that he expects Gov. Spencer Cox will soon lower the age threshold for vaccination to 65. That could push the number of county residents eligible to receive the vaccine above 6,000, according to census data.
If the county continues to receive 400 doses each week, it could be early May before all county residents 65 and older receive the first dose of the vaccine. Bullough has said that the second doses, which are required to create immunity to COVID-19, do not count in the number of doses the county receives, though he indicated the policies governing second doses are changing.
Bullough indicated the county began vaccinating residents 70 and older to comply with the intent of the governor’s order, but that there are still many people awaiting vaccinations from the earlier priority groups.
He estimated it would be another two to three weeks before all educators had received their first dose of vaccine, and county officials estimated it would likely take the entire month of February to clear the backlog.
“I’ve been frustrated by the … low numbers of vaccine we’ve been receiving, much lower than forecasted,” Bullough said. “And looking forward, the numbers continue to be low.”
He told the elected officials that they would likely be in the center of efforts to communicate achievable timelines to residents in their communities.
“He is setting an expectation we’re caught in the middle of and we’re unable to deliver on,” Bullough said of Gov. Cox’s aggressive vaccine schedule.
But Bullough also indicated he supported the governor’s strategy, despite the messaging challenges.
Cox announced last week that he would mandate all health departments use their entire supply of vaccine each week in an effort to demonstrate to federal suppliers that Utah is capable of distributing more vaccine than it receives.
Bullough said federal officials announced last week they would start taking into account states’ ability to distribute the vaccine, providing the possibility that Utah may see more doses than its population warrants.
A state Department of Health spokesperson said Wednesday that hadn’t happened yet and that the state continues to receive around 33,000 doses each week.
Census data indicates there are around 30,000 people 20 and older in Summit County; the vaccine is not approved for use by those under 18. If the current rate of vaccine delivery remains, it wouldn’t be until the middle of 2022 until the county could deliver 30,000 first doses, not factoring in the second doses that are required to complete inoculation.
“We have the capacity,” Bullough said. “Just waiting and hoping to get more (vaccine).”
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that Summit County is not limiting the number of vaccinations available each day for those 70 and older, but rather the number of scheduling invitations sent out to seniors each day.
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Utah’s legislative general session is set to end on Friday, and if history is any indicator, there will be a flurry of floor amendments and last-minute changes for county officials to monitor.