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Tooele County Health Department defends vaccinating family members of employees

FILE: Entrance of the Tooele County Health Department. Photo credit: Paul Nelson

TOOELE, Utah – Tooele County Health Department is defending their reasoning to vaccinate employees’ immediate family before other members of the community. The department reported those family members were vaccinated sooner than expected. 

However, they did not have a choice. 

Department officials reported the vaccinations happened at the very beginning of the vaccine rollout. Spokesperson Amy Bate noted they received these doses between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

This was before the state opened the vaccination process to people in the general public over the age of 70; before anyone had registered to receive it. Bate reported those vaccines were earmarked for first responders and health care workers, but many of those people declined.

Tooele Family Members

(Taelor Leonelli, RN, administering the COVID-19 vaccine inside the Tooele County Health Department building. Credit: Paul Nelson)

The doses delivered had been thawed and some vials had already been opened.

“We had vials of vaccine that was thawed and it has to be used in a certain amount of time. When you open it, it has to be used in a shorter amount of time,” Bate said.

The department wasn’t allowed to give the medicine to workers inside Mountain West Medical Center, since the hospital is in charge of vaccinating their own employees.

Bate said the county reached out to doctor’s offices, dental clinics and pharmacies, telling them to send over their workers to be vaccinated. However, Bate stated they still had a lot of medicine left over.

That’s when the department decided to give those doses to immediate family members of their employees. Bate believes this ensures people involved in their vaccine rollout would have an extra layer of protection.

“If their family member were to become sick with COVID-19, then our own employees would have to quarantine,” according to Bate.

If they hadn’t done this, Bate affirmed those doses would have been wasted.

Tooele Family Members

(Mary Gallen, RN, giving a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to a Tooele County resident. Credit: Paul Nelson)

This decision isn’t sitting well with some people.  One woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, told KSL the county should have tried harder to find people who are in greater need of the vaccine.

“Even if there wasn’t a list, it should have gone to immediate family members of people in the front line, right there in a hospital,” she said.  “I would think that another facility would have been more than willing to travel to get that vaccine.”

Bate defended the decision by stating the department has never turned away anyone who is eligible for the vaccine due to shortage, and they’ve been able to honor all of their booking appointments. 

She encourages more county residents to sign up for the vaccine because they can handle more appointments than they currently are.