Vaccine may be offered to general public in weeks, health director says
Officials say March is the likely timeframe for eligibility to be broadened
Summit County health officials are set to double the capacity of the drive-thru vaccine site at Quinn’s Junction as they ready to offer the vaccine against COVID-19 to the general public — something that might happen in as little as two weeks.
“I would anticipate that we should all be gearing up for opening to the general public in March. I think it’s going to happen sooner than we think it is going to happen,” said Health Director Rich Bullough. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the middle of March. I’d be very surprised if it went beyond the end of March.”
There will likely be a significant delay between when members of the general public are eligible to receive the vaccine and when they actually receive the shot. The county has 3,700 appointments already scheduled, with the eligible population capped at those 65 and older, as well as a smaller number of other individuals.
Gov. Spencer Cox’s administration is ultimately responsible for deciding when vaccinations are offered to the general public. Cox has not declared when that will be, though he has consistently tried to encourage vaccine demand by broadening the requirements for eligibility. He has said his strategy is to exhaust the state’s vaccine supply as quickly as possible in a bid to get more doses from the federal government.
Bullough’s statements came during the monthly Board of Health meeting. The board heard an optimistic report about the state of COVID locally and the accelerating vaccination program while also absorbing grim news that the county had surpassed 5,000 cases and that another county resident had died, the ninth to date.
Nearly 1/8 of the county’s population has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
“We want to be lower than this,” Bullough said. “… We are at a higher level right now than we were (last March). We’ve kind of, I think, gotten used to this a little bit.”
Summit County Nursing Director Derek Moss said that 19.2% of Summit County’s population 18 years and older has received at least one vaccine dose, while around 8% has received both shots.
He added that 81% of the county’s oldest population, those aged 70 and over, has received at least the first shot, surpassing the county’s goal.
The county remains in the highest “transmission level” on the state’s index.
On Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave emergency use authorization to a vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, the third to receive such approval. The vaccine requires only one shot and does not have to be stored at such cold temperatures as those manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna, the latter of which makes up the county’s supply.
It is unclear how, exactly, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be folded into inoculation plans locally, but Bullough indicated a sizable shipment will soon be directed to the Park City Hospital.
The hospital will help inoculate the latest population Cox declared eligible for vaccination: Utahns 16 and older with certain medical conditions. Only the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer is approved for use in those between 16 and 18, and the county lacks the cold-storage equipment to administer that vaccine.
Bullough encouraged people to seek a vaccine if they are eligible, saying that it remains the clearest path out of the pandemic.
“If you have an opportunity to be vaccinated, be vaccinated,” he said. “These are safe vaccines.”
He also advocated people continue to practice the public health measures that officials have touted for months, including wearing a mask, maintaining social distance and washing hands frequently.
He cautioned people not to think that the vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson is inferior to the other two offerings. He indicated that the efficacy rate it demonstrated in clinical trials — around 66% effective in preventing moderate COVID-19, compared to rates above 90% for the other vaccines — may have been influenced by recent virus mutations, which might not have existed during testing of the Moderna- and Pfizer-manufactured vaccines.
“It’s effective. No deaths, no hospitalizations in phase 3 trial of Johnson & Johnson,” he said. “So the recommendation is: If you have an opportunity to be vaccinated, get vaccinated with whatever vaccine is available.”
In Summit County, those vaccines are made available at the drive-thru clinic set up at the Utah Film Studios. After the power went out last week, Bullough said he went to the site expecting chaos, but instead reported that operations hadn’t missed a beat.
The lights were out and it was colder than normal, Bullough said, but the iPads used to disseminate information had backup batteries and the system had switched from using WiFi to a cellular signal.
Moss estimated the outage set the operation back by a couple of minutes.
Officials are anticipating adding a second drive-thru lane on Tuesday, partly to help with the influx of demand as the county begins delivering second doses of the vaccine, which were previously administered by Park City Hospital.
Moss said some student nurses from the University of Utah, along with supervising professors, were expected to aid the expansion and help staff the clinic.
The inflection point isn’t here yet when the county can request as many doses as it can use, but Bullough indicated it is getting closer.
He said the state receives around 80,000 doses per week, up from 50,000 in mid-February, and that officials still expect that number to hit 250,000 per week at the end of March.
At some point, the county will not be able to deliver all of the doses it receives, officials have said, and will rely on a network of partners including grocery stores and pharmacies. A simultaneous federal program is supplying Walmart and Smith’s pharmacies.
Bullough said the county is “a few weeks away” from vaccine supply no longer being the factor limiting the mass-vaccination effort.
By the end of this week, officials anticipate administering all of the 7,250 doses the county has received to date.
“We continue to lobby the state to send us more, so that we can hopefully put this behind us as quick as we can,” Moss said.
To register for a vaccine, visit summitcountyhealth.org/vaccine/ or call 435-333-0050.
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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.