UDOH is changing prioritization process for COVID-19 symptom treatments

Jan 21, 2022, 7:25 PM | Updated: Aug 2, 2022, 12:40 pm
Hepatitis kids Utah...
FILE: Utah health officials are unclear about what caused two cases of a severe liver illness in children. Photo: KSL TV.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Department of Health is making huge changes in how they determine who gets to be first in line for certain treatments for COVID-19 symptoms.  They still need to prioritize some patients over others, but officials say their old method could lead to legal challenges.

COVID-19 treatments

There are two kinds of COVID-19 treatments that are in very short supply.  Officials say there is not enough monoclonal antibody treatments available for all of the patients experiencing symptoms.  Plus, Utah Department of Health Deputy Director Michelle Hofmann says there are pills, like Paxlovid, that appear to be just as effective as monoclonal antibodies, but there is a very limited number of those treatments.

Hofmann said, “The degree of scarcity we’re experiencing now, relative to the cases that we’re seeing, is just nothing like we’ve had to deal with before.”

These treatments are hard to find. So, the state still needs to find ways to prioritize which patients should get them.  They’re intended for people experiencing moderate symptoms who haven’t been hospitalized in hopes of keeping them out of treatment centers and ICUs.  In the past, healthcare workers used criteria like race and gender to prioritize patients, but Hofmann says that raises a lot of legal questions.

“When things are out in the public sphere, it causes us to ask questions.  So, we did take a very close look and did a legal analysis,” she said.

Risk assessment calculator

So, officials decided to take race and gender out of their risk assessment calculator.  They also decided to remove the “automatic prioritization” for some immunocompromised patients and pregnant women.

“We cannot base our decisions based on those protected classes, alone,” Hofmann said.

That’s not to say that the healthcare gaps in minority communities have disappeared.  Hofmann says people of color are more likely to be hospitalized with COVID symptoms.  Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders were 2.3 times more likely to go to the hospital than Non-Hispanic White people, Asian Americans are 1.5 times more likely, and Hispanics were 1.4 more likely.  However, instead of giving those groups more “points” on the risk calculator, Hofmann says they’re increasing their efforts to bring these medications to communities that need them.

She said, “We’re doubling down and being much more diligent in bringing these providers on board.”

State health workers will use the same prioritization rules they use for the general public in places like long-term care centers, jails, prisons and other “congregate settings.”  They’re also going to put unvaccinated people over the age of 75 in a higher priority level.

Hofmann says national news coverage of Utah’s previous risk assessment calculator had zero impact on their decision process.

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UDOH is changing prioritization process for COVID-19 symptom treatments