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Utah COVID-19 Vaccine return to normal
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Utah COVID-19 vaccine rollout main issue is distribution speed

(Screen grab from PBS Utah's monthly press conference)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – How can the state improve its COVID-19 vaccine rollout?  This was the main topic of discussion during Gov. Spencer Cox’s first monthly PBS press conference.

Gov. Cox said the state is making efforts to speed up the COVID-19 vaccine rollout process.

According to Gov. Cox, there are 26,000 doses of the vaccine still sitting on the shelves and weren’t used within seven days as set out by his executive order. 

However, the problem doesn’t lie with hospitals or local health departments. Gov. Cox reported health boards across the state have used 94 percent of all vaccines older than seven days and are on track to distribute the rest by the end of the week.

Hospitals have used 92 percent of their allotted doses, and are transferring the unused vaccines to other places that need them.

The problem lies within pharmacies that partnered with the federal government. Those pharmacies are in charge of vaccinating people in long-term care facilities, but, Gov. Cox said they’ve used less than 20 percent of their doses within seven days simply because they got too many.

“They have too much vaccine, more than they need,” he said.  The state is currently negotiating with these pharmacies to redistribute these doses to other health care facilities.

Gov. Cox said he had two options to consider when he took office. He could either let the doses go unused or allow a rush of people to try and get them at the same time.

“The decision was an easy one for me.  I would much rather have difficulty logging in to a website or getting on the phone because we have too many people registering to get that vaccine,” he said.

Lawmakers all agree there should be no barriers in the way of allowing people to get the vaccine. However, the billing process has been known to slow everything down. 

Some smaller health departments don’t have any choice but to go through their insurance companies.

Gov. Cox responded by saying, “We are working, right now, with the legislature to see if there is a way we can cover that.”

There is also a lot of discussion happening about what to do with second doses. 

Other states have decided to release their boosters to use them as first doses, which would give more people at least some level of protection against the virus.  However, Gov. Cox said they aren’t certain how effective the primary doses will be if the patients don’t get the second when they’re supposed to.

He said, “If we had done a test group of just first doses and then a test group of second doses we could have seen the differences there, but that never happened.  So, the health care experts are recommending that we not make that change, right now.”

For now, health workers will release a second dose seven days after a patient doesn’t show up to get it.

The governor said he’s also pleased to hear about a push from the federal government to distribute more high-quality masks. 

He said cloth masks work, somewhat, but they’re not nearly as effective as N95 or KN95 masks. Gov. Cox believes many people may not have known where to turn to get them.

“It’s hard to determine if their real N95 or KN95 masks.  There are a lot of fakes, out there,” he said.

 

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