Utah (ABC4 News) — Imagine a future with gatherings, hugs, shared meals, sporting events, and performances all enjoyed shoulder-to-shoulder.

Those interactions are distant and missed in 2020, but Utah health officials say they may be possible someday in the future, with the promise of COVID-19 vaccines rolling out across the country in the coming weeks and months.

According to the 2020 State of Utah COVID-19 Response Team, “The COVID-19 vaccination will be an important tool to help stop the pandemic.” 

“The key to defeating this debilitating and deadly disease is ensuring vaccines are safe and effective, and that enough of us get vaccinated once we have access,” Utah.gov says.

What do we know about the COVID-19 vaccine in Utah?

The Utah Department of Health announced they officially placed the state’s first order for COVID-19 vaccines. The order for the Pfizer vaccine was placed Thursday, Dec. 4. When the order was placed, the state was expecting the vaccines to arrive around Dec. 15.

The U.S. FDA approved the first COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on Friday, Dec. 11.

Health officials say the first shipments for the Pfizer vaccine will be shipped within the first 24 hours of the FDA’s approval. The Utah Department of Health announced they received notice from the CDC that Utah’s first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine will arrive on Monday, Dec 14, with a second shipment arriving Tuesday.

Dr. Angela Dunn, State Epidemiologist, Utah Department of Health shared a video discussing the importance of a COVID-19 vaccine for Uthans as it nears completion. 

“We want to help educate you on the importance of vaccines in our lives,” says Dr. Dunn.

What is a vaccine?

A vaccine is a way to exchange your body’s natural defense against a disease without actually causing you to have the illness. 

“For over 200 years, we’ve been using vaccines safely to decrease and eradicate certain diseases that previously harmed or killed millions of people. And soon, we’ll use a vaccine to help save lives from COVID-19, too,” says Dr. Dunn.

How do vaccines work?

Dr. Dunn says vaccines work by introducing an inactive form of the microbe, or virus into your body. Next, the body produces defenses to the virus called antibodies to protect itself against further infection. 

“These antibodies are like little soldiers that fight a specific disease,” says Dr. Dunn.

When an active form of the microbe enters your body in the future, your body is able to recognize it and use the antibodies to eliminate the disease before it takes over. 

Vaccines help the body develop immunity by training the immune system to recognize and remember how to respond to the disease-causing part of a virus. Vaccines traditionally contain either weakened or inactivated (killed) viruses, as stated on Utah.gov.

Will the vaccine be effective?

A vaccine must be at least 50% effective for it to be granted FDA authorization for emergency use. Utah health officials say any level of effectiveness can help slow the spread. Early data indicates that some COVID-19 vaccines maybe around 95% effective.

Because it is currently unknown how effective the vaccines will be or for how long, health officials recommend Uthans continue their efforts in all other prevention methods including masking up, social distancing, and hand hygiene until further data is collected.

According to Utah.gov, the goal is to make it easy for everyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as large quantities are available. Health officials say there will be a limited supply at first with more to follow in the coming months.

Policymakers are developing plans to make sure those who are at the highest-risk get the vaccine first. Healthcare personnel who work in high-risk environments from Utah hospitals providing care to the highest number of COVID-19 patients are expected to receive the vaccines first. A priority list will be released with a timeline of when Utahns can expect to get their dose of the vaccine.

When the vaccine is available, every Utahn age 18 years or older is encouraged to get vaccinated. If as many people as possible get vaccinated and health protocols continue to be followed, health officials say “we will win the fight against this virus.”

Utahns looking for the latest surrounding COVID-19 vaccine information and updates can sign up for vaccine emails.

After you sign up, you’ll get a few emails over the span of a few days with background information on the COVID-19 vaccine and Utah’s distribution plan. 

Every one to two weeks, you’ll get an email with Utah’s latest news about the vaccine. “We’ll share the latest vaccine news, important COVID-19 info and resources. We’ll give you everything you need to be the most informed person in your virtual book club, Zoom meeting, or family FaceTime,” as stated by The Vaccine Real Talk.