SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utah officials have adopted recommendations on who should receive the COVID-19 vaccine during Phase 2 of Utah’s vaccine campaign.
Utah’s COVID-19 Unified Command group says they, at the direction of Governor Gary Herbert, have adopted the recommendations from the Utah Department of Health.
Phase 2 vaccinations are expected to begin as early as mid-February.
Utah residents who are 75-years-old and older will receive the vaccine first, according to the state.
“We have seen older adults bear the most severe burden of disease in our state, and across the nation,” says Rich Saunders, UDOH interim executive director. “These individuals are far more likely to be hospitalized, to need intensive care, and to pass away from COVID-19. Ensuring these members of our community receive the vaccine as early as possible will save lives and help reduce the burden on our hospitals.”
Officials say the hospitalization rate for adults between 65 and 84 is more than three times greater than the next closest age group.
For those over the age of 85, the rate is nearly five times greater.
Mortality rates are also significantly elevated in these age groups. Those older than 65 account for 77% of all COVID-19 related deaths in Utah. As of December 27, over 1,200 Utahns have died from COVID-19 related complications.
“As we move into Phase 2 of our vaccination program, it simply makes the most sense to vaccinate those who are at the highest risk for hospitalization and death first,” says Gov. Herbert. “We will continue to refine our plans, and to move forward under the principle that those who stand to suffer the most should be vaccinated first.”
Utah officials continue, saying prioritization of subsequent waves in Phase 2 is still under consideration and will likely include prioritization by additional age groups, residents with certain underlying medical conditions, and certain residents who live in congregate settings.
Prioritization based on an individual’s employment status in certain industries is no longer being considered by the Unified Command group.
“Focusing on age will do more to reduce infections and alleviate hospitalizations than any other category of individuals as we continue to administer vaccinations,” says Gov.-elect Spencer Cox. “I’m very supportive of this change and know it will save lives.”
During the early part of Phase 2, many Utahns will receive their immunizations at local health department mass vaccination clinics. Later on, vaccines will also be available through local pharmacies and primary care providers.
Details such as how vaccine administration sites will verify the age of those seeking to be immunized is still being determined, according to officials.
In early December, Utah began Phase 1 of its COVID-19 vaccination program. Hospital health care workers, long-term care facility residents and staff, non-hospital health care workers, public health and tribal care workers in Utah continued to be vaccinated. Since then, nearly 17,000 vaccines have been administered.
Individual hospitals are vaccinating their own staff while pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens, as well as Community Nursing Services, are providing vaccines in long-term care facilites.
Non-hospital health care workers are encouraged to reach out to their local health departments for information on how to get vaccinated.
Officials say K-12 teachers and school staff, along with first responders, will likely begin receiving the vaccine in late January, in the later part of Phase 1. This coordination is happening between school district administrators and local health departments.
More details about the COVID-19 vaccine, and Utah’s distribution plan, can be found at coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine.