‘It’s a pretty unfair comparison’: Why Utah ranks low on vaccine distribution

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FILE – In this Jan. 18, 2021, file photo, a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 is prepared at a vaccination center of the 3rd district, in Paris. Japan’s COVID-19 vaccinations are beginning Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, after the government granted belated first approval to a shot co-developed by Pfizer Inc. that the United States and many other countries started using two months ago.(AP Photo/Francois Mori, File)

UTAH (ABC4) – A recent COVID-19 vaccine distribution ranking by the CDC has left many Utahns wondering why the Beehive State has – from what it seems – vaccinated considerably fewer residents than other U.S. states. 

In fact, the trend isn’t necessarily a new revelation. A little over a month ago, the CDC listed Utah as tied for 28th in the nation for vaccine distribution. However, state health officials say this information isn’t accurate, mostly due to the logistical elements that go into collecting the data.

Jennifer Napier-Pearce, Senior Advisor and Director of Communications for Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox, tells ABC4, “Utah’s share of vaccines is based on age, so Utah will always lag behind in these national rankings because we have the youngest population in the nation. Our allotment is based on adult population numbers.” 

According to the Utah Department of Health, there are several sites that show how states rank in comparison to each other with vaccine distribution.

“Each uses a different measure, different population estimates, etc. For example, the CDC site only uses rates and doesn’t include those who are 16 or 17 but eligible for the vaccine in the rate,” Jenny Johnson, Public Information Officer for the Utah Department of Health tells ABC4.  

“It’s a pretty unfair comparison for states that have younger populations like Utah,” Johnson adds. 

She says Utah has the youngest population in the nation which impacts our rates, furthered even more by the CDC not including the 16 and 17-year-olds who are eligible that Johnson mentions.

“Utah has a disproportionately young population (about 30% of our population is younger than 18), and gets less per capita than comparatively older states. The population in Utah eligible for the vaccine (16+) makes up only about 0.84% of the U.S. population,” Johnson shares.

Other sites that use a ranking system look at the percentage of vaccines administered which shows Utah is doing really well, Johnson tells ABC4. “We focus our efforts on getting vaccines in arms as quickly as possible within seven days of receiving doses from the federal government. We have used about 84% of our total vaccines.”

While health sites like the CDC have listed Utah as one of the lowest states for vaccine distribution, the Becker Hospital Review places Utah in the top 10. 

According to the Utah Department of Health, they understand people’s concerns about the state’s vaccine rollout and when they will be able to get their dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Even though these vaccines are being developed as quickly as possible, it is important to know they are using the same safety approval processes and procedures they use for other vaccines authorized or approved for use. Safety is a top priority, and there are many reasons to get vaccinated,” states the Utah Department of Health’s website.

Scientists studying and developing the COVID-19 vaccine are still learning whether the vaccines also prevent people from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to others, even after they are fully immunized, the health department shares. According to the FDA, most vaccines that protect you from viral illnesses are also effective at preventing the spread of the virus. 

They say it is likely the COVID-19 vaccines will do the same but until scientists and doctors learn more, it is important for everyone to continue taking precautions like covering your nose and mouth with a mask.

The Utah Department of Health says this is not the time to slack on COVID-19 health precautions, even if you have been vaccinated. 

Because we are still learning new things about the coronavirus and its vaccine, continuing to practice the health behaviors we know prevent COVID-19, like wearing a mask and physical distancing will be beneficial. 

“Stopping the pandemic requires using all the tools we have available. Vaccines work with your immune system so your body will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed. Other steps, like wearing masks and physical distancing, help reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others. Getting vaccinated and following the Utah Department of Health’s recommendations to protect yourself and others will offer the best protection from COVID-19,” states Utah health department. 

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