Summit County is set to dismantle its mass vaccination clinic
6 months in, 85% of those 16 and older have had at least one shot
This is the final week of operation for the mass vaccination clinic at the Utah Film Studios, an experiment in logistics and public health unprecedented in the history of Summit County and one that, much to the county health director’s surprise, lasted fewer than six months.
“Early on, I was forecasting we’d be well into July before we hit any significant level of vaccine uptake that would be protective of us,” Health Director Rich Bullough said. “I’m thrilled to say I’m off by six or eight weeks.”
Bullough stopped short of saying the county had reached herd immunity, indicating that an influx of summertime visitors would make it difficult to track the vaccination level at any given time.
“The herd keeps changing,” he said.
But, he indicated, that made the county’s vaccine numbers no less impressive.
According to county data, 71% of county residents age 16 or older have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 85% have received a first dose. And those numbers may be conservative, Bullough indicated, as county officials used in their calculations a county population 3% larger than U.S. census numbers in an attempt to account for residents not tallied in the census.
Bullough said that the film studio clinic administered around 22,000 shots since opening Jan 5.
He has consistently praised community members for their willingness and, in many cases, eagerness to receive a vaccine.
“Other health departments are also looking at standing down clinics not because of (vaccine) saturation or uptake, there’s just no demand,” he said. “Some of those other clinics, their uptake isn’t half what ours is.”
The county’s vaccine clinic is held inside what was formerly the carpentry shop at Utah Film Studios, where workers would bang together sets for whatever was shooting on the sound stages.
The scene was different starting Jan. 5, when hundreds of volunteers began staffing the drive-thru location, directing traffic, giving shots, monitoring to make sure there weren’t adverse health reactions and performing myriad other tasks required to keep the site working, like shoveling snow, offering language interpretation and operating the garage doors.
Nearly 500 volunteers worked at the clinic for more than 15,000 cumulative hours over the months it has been in operation.
Officials have said it is commonplace for other counties in the state to have to pay workers to staff vaccine clinics.
Jan. 5 – first day in operation
486 – number of volunteers
3,360 – volunteer shifts worked
15,142 – volunteer hours worked
21,990 – vaccines administered
May 27 – final scheduled day of operations
Source: Summit County
Summit County’s last clinic is scheduled Thursday, with appointments for around 100 second doses. After that, officials will return for a deep clean and then return the site to its owners, where it might once again be used to build whatever a Hollywood producer needs to make a TV show.
Bullough thanked owner Gary Crandall and his family for making the facility available on essentially a handshake deal, agreeing to the idea in less than a day and later formalizing it with county attorneys.
Bullough indicated the clinic’s closure doesn’t mean the county is free from COVID. A 13th county resident died from the disease last week, and Bullough anticipated a 14th would be officially added to the numbers shortly. Both recent fatalities, he said, were people in their 60s who had not been vaccinated.
The danger might rise in coming months, officials indicated, as tourists flock to the area and visit eastern Summit County on their way to the Uinta Mountains.
“There are pockets of people in small communities like that who are not vaccinated (and are) going to be at risk,” Bullough said. “These last two fatalities that we’ve had — people not vaccinated in their 60s — it is completely preventable, and yet two people died.”
Bullough also said that a variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 that originated in India had arrived in Summit County. The infected person sought a test not because of symptoms, but in order to travel. Bullough said officials were working to trace the person’s close contacts to try to determine the disease’s path through the community.
Other virus variants that have made headlines have also made their way to the county, and Bullough said previous concerns about the so-called “U.K. variant” and others had largely not borne out.
He said that the latest arrival, the “Indian variant,” still seemed to respond well to the vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna, according to initial research.
Officials will continue to vaccinate county residents after the mass vaccination drive-thru clinic shuts its doors, relying on private partnerships and the established health care system.
Bullough said there might be a need to deliver as many as 30,000 doses this fall. He anticipates the vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna will receive broader emergency use authorizations and could be used in children as young as 2 by this fall, significantly adding to the number of people eligible for a vaccine.
And he said that it is likely officials will recommend a booster shot for those who have received the vaccines that are currently available.
“It is becoming increasingly probable that there’s going to be a third shot in the case of the mRNA (based vaccines) and a second shot of Johnson & Johnson,” he said.
Another complicating factor is the prospect of reconvening schools in person this fall without widespread mask-wearing. Vaccine uptake among children age 12 to 15 years in the North Summit and South Summit school districts so far has been “not very good,” Bullough said.
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Summit County’s sales taxes are beating 2019 levels, with an estimated additional $1.2 million in revenue. Councilors debated using the money to hire more employees.