ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4) — For St. George resident and registered nurse Marilyn Haynes-Brokopp, navigating the vaccine sign-up process for her loved ones aged 70 and older can, at times, feel like an impossible task.
“I can tell you that the people I have helped are in tears. The scheduling platform requires computer skills that some of our elderly do not have,” Haynes-Brokopp, who is the former president of the Utah Public Health Association, tells ABC4. “They say, ‘We don’t know how to do this. We call the telephone number, and we can’t get through or leave a message. That tells me that there’s staffing inadequacies.”
Many southwestern Utah residents reported that the health district’s website didn’t enable sign-ups when they were supposed to go online at 9 a.m. Monday, while others reported needing to call dozens of times before they were able to get through to an operator.
“The state has had significant funding from the Cares Act and that could have been used to support and enhance critical tests of testing, contact tracing, scheduling systems and statewide communication methods,” Haynes-Brokopp added. “The Utah Department of Health and our local health departments could develop a volunteer pool of public health expertise available that can be called upon to assist in emergencies. We need to look at what’s coming and ensure proper planning.”
As the majority of southern Utahns 70 and older continue to struggle to sign up for their first dose, public health officials in southwestern Utah say the plan to expand vaccine eligibility within weeks may pose further complications.
“We would love to see more of the vaccine allocated to us. At this rate, it does feel a little bit too soon to go to the next age group,” David Heaton, public information officer for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said. “We encourage the public to remain patient and stay vigilant in the face of COVID-19 fatigue. The good news is that we are seeing a sustained decrease in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in our district.”
Residents 65 and older and some adults with underlying health conditions will be eligible on Mar. 1. The vaccine is only going to become more available, yet the demand is only going to get higher.
According to Heaton, demand remains extremely high, particularly in Washington County where 35,000 residents belong to the 70+ age group and appointments at the St. George locations through the end of February had already been filled by Monday afternoon.
The five-county health district has administered between 15,000 and 20,000 vaccines, which includes some second doses, Heaton tells ABC4. SWUPHD has the current capacity and staffing to administer approximately 2,000 doses each day and was able to vaccinate approximately 2,700 elderly residents at a clinic at the St. George Senior Center last week.
Additional avenues to receive the vaccine are becoming available this week — Smith’s supermarkets, including St. George and Cedar City locations, are offering a limited supply to Utahns 70 and older starting on Thursday. Sign-ups are expected to go online Wednesday on Smith’s website.
Customers with appointments will be directed to check in at the pharmacy desk, receive their shot, and wait 15 minutes while socially distanced to monitor any symptoms that may arise.
According to Smith’s, each store will receive about 100 doses per week, with more expected as they become available.