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Health department formalizes plan for COVID-19 vaccine distribution

(Exterior of the Utah Department of Health. Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – State health officials have formally submitted their plan to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine whenever one becomes available. However, they don’t expect this process to run smoothly, at first.

Immunization specialists at the Utah Department of Health said already knew who should be getting the first doses: doctors, nurses and other hospital workers. After that, first responders like medics, firefighters and police officers will get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Eventually, it will be available for the general public.

Where will the COVID-19 vaccine be available?

So, which hospitals would receive the first doses? Immunization Director Rich Lakin said it will go to LDS Hospital and University Hospital in Salt Lake City, Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, and Utah Valley Hospital in Provo. 

Lakin said they expect the first shipments to roll out slowly, and hospitals will need to make plans on which workers will be the first to be vaccinated.

“For example, if LDS Hospital receives enough vaccine to only vaccinate 30% of their health care personnel and staff, who are they going to vaccinate?” he said.

Many factors were considered before making this decision. Lakin said specialists had to ensure health care facilities could store the vaccine in the appropriate temperatures or it would spoil. 

Plus, they weren’t able to give them to smaller clinics since they didn’t want to send thousands of doses to facilities that wouldn’t be used. 

Even after a lot of planning, Lakin said there could still be issues with the medication. The vaccine may come out slower or faster than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts — or there could be shipping problems.

“There will be some bumps,” Lakin said. “Hopefully, they’re not too big.”

When can Utahns expect the vaccine? 

Lakin said he expects the vaccine may be ready for health care workers between mid-November and January. The best “ballpark” estimate for when it would be available for the general public is sometime in the summer. 

He said the Utah Department of Health has done large vaccination projects in the past, but nothing to this scale.

“This is going to be the largest vaccination campaign that we have ever done,” Lakin said.

Would the vaccine be safe?  Many people tell KSL they have doubts about the first doses since the testing process feels rushed. 

Lakin said the vaccine would have to go through every safety test that all other drugs have to. Plus, if it’s approved by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, Lakin said he would have full confidence in it.

“At that point, to us, that is the gold standard,” he said. “That meets the standard that the vaccine is safe and it’s time to move that vaccine out.”