Summit County invites residents 40 and older to make a vaccine appointment (updated)
Utah expands age eligibility for COVID-19 inoculation
Health officials announced Thursday that the age requirement to receive a vaccine against COVID-19 was lowering dramatically, but in Summit County, that age is lower than anywhere else in the state — at least temporarily.
Gov. Spencer Cox Thursday morning announced that all Utahns 50 years or older, and some others who have certain medical conditions, would be eligible to receive a vaccine against COVID-19 beginning March 8.
“This is the largest group we’ve ever added,” Cox said during a news briefing. “And we are having more and more vaccines come into the state every week — that’s why we feel comfortable doing this.”
A half-hour later, Summit County announced it was inviting all Summit County residents 40 and older who had pre-registered to schedule an appointment to be vaccinated.
The discrepancy is due to how the county collected age data in its pre-registration system, said Health Director Rich Bullough.
The county in January asked residents to register in an online database the county would use to notify residents when they could sign up to be inoculated. The form didn’t require a birth date, but asked users to split themselves into age categories, two of which were 40 to 54 and 55 to 64. On Wednesday, when Bullough was told the county wouldn’t be able to hone in on the 50-year-old threshold, those two age brackets included 6,300 people .
Rather than scrapping the data, or rejecting people who were 50 to 54 years old, Bullough said he decided to also open the eligibility to those 40- to 49-years-old.
“Late last night, I made the decision, rather than erring on the side of vaccinating fewer people, I made the decision to vaccinate more people,” Bullough said in an interview Thursday.
Moving forward, the county will sort people who register at the county’s site into those who are 50 and older, prioritizing the older group per state mandate.
The county sent email invitations to all 6,300 people who had pre-registered who were 40 years or older, Bullough said, and the county estimated it would take four to six weeks for people who registered after March 4 to be able to make an appointment.
Even for those who pre-registered, it may be weeks between when someone is eligible to make an appointment and the date of that appointment.
At the briefing Thursday morning, Cox asked Utahns to wait to make an appointment until Monday to avoid overloading the websites and call centers that are facilitating the unprecedented vaccination effort.
Within an hour of the announcement, the Summit County Health Department’s website had crashed. It was not restored until the early evening Thursday.
Bullough acknowledged the county might see an influx of people 40 and older from around the state, but said he expected statewide eligibility would be broadened in a matter of weeks.
Cox said he anticipated opening up vaccine eligibility to all Utah adults next month, though he cautioned that timeline was optimistic and “assuming everything works out according to plan.”
“We anticipate and hope that by April, the beginning of April, we’ll be able to open up eligibility to every adult in the state of Utah. That’s what we’re shooting for,” he said.
Cox’s announcement came on the heels of the state receiving its first batch of vaccines manufactured by Johnson & Johnson — 23,000 doses arrived Wednesday, the governor said — and the announcement that health care partners including Intermountain Healthcare would set up mass vaccination sites, including one at Park City Hospital.
Park City Hospital CEO Lori Weston said the hospital received 1,200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Wednesday, and that clinicians weren’t reserving that vaccine for any particular patient or use.
“Efficacy is pretty much the same, side effects are the same, it’s really just increasing the amount of vaccine coming into our county,” Weston said. “… There’s not one brand that is better than the others. They are all effective.”
The Johnson & Johnson-manufactured vaccine requires only one dose, and officials have said it is as effective at preventing severe illness and death as the vaccines manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer.
Weston said Thursday was the first day for the hospital’s high-throughput vaccine clinic, one of 16 sites Intermountain Healthcare is planning to use to rapidly disseminate the vaccine. She said the operation had gone smoothly and that they’d delivered 700 vaccines that day.
Systemwide, Intermountain is vaccinating about 42,000 people per week, but officials said that number is entirely dependent on the vaccine supply.
Weston said it was crucial that people keep a vaccine appointment if they make one to avoid wasting doses, and to cancel an appointment if they know they will be unable to make it.
“They really need to recognize that an appointment is a dose,” she said. “And so when you cancel or you don’t show up, you’re leaving a dose unused and that’s wasted, so we all have to scramble to figure out who we can give doses to at the end.”
The hospital plans to run the clinic daily from 9 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and Weston said it could vaccinate more than 1,000 people per day. Summit County’s nearby drive-thru clinic at Utah Film Studios recently doubled its capacity and Bullough said it could deliver 600 vaccines per day.
Cox has also announced that Utahns may seek a vaccine anywhere in the state, but warned that they must return to that site to receive the second dose. Weston said that Intermountain Healthcare’s online portal would allow eligible users to choose whichever site is convenient.
Officials have anticipated a massive increase in the number of doses coming to Utah by the end of the month, and that the distribution network will soon broaden to include partnerships with private entities like pharmacies at Walmart and Smith’s.
Weston said that 15 to 20 staffers were required to run the hospital’s vaccine clinic and that the hospital wasn’t curtailing its other health services, once again adding to the clinicians’ workload.
But she said hospital workers’ morale was high as the vaccine drive ramps up.
“It’s really good, especially watching the vaccines being administered,” she said. “It’s a sign of hope and they feel like we’re going to get on top of this pandemic and be able to achieve some sort of new normal in the near future.”
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