Nearly a thousand Utahns have received both shots of the COVID-19 vaccine — but many doses have yet to be given out

“No one has really done this type of distribution of vaccines to very large numbers of the population before,” says University of Utah Health official.

The first Utahn to get vaccinated for COVID-19 has now completed the process, getting her second dose — and some peace of mind.

“It’s going to give me a sense of rest, knowing that I can come to work confidently, and take care of my patients well, knowing that I’m vaccinated and protected,” said Christy Mulder, a nurse in the medical intensive care unit at University of Utah Hospital, who received the second dose of the Pfizer Inc./BioNTech vaccine Thursday afternoon.

The first person in Utah to receive the vaccine, Mulder received her first dose on Dec. 15. On Thursday, she joined the ranks of front-line health care workers who have gotten both doses.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah Health begins administering the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as pharmacy resident Chanah Gallagher gives Christy Mulder, an RN in the MICU, her second dose on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.

According to the Utah Department of Health’s report Thursday, 967 people in Utah have received the second dose of the vaccine. So far, 66,096 have received only the first dose. A total of 68,030 doses have been distributed statewide — 7,568 more than UDOH reported the day before.

That total is still 43% of the 157,925 doses the health department says have been shipped to Utah.

“This is a tough row, and no one has really done this type of distribution of vaccines to very large numbers of the population before,” Dr. Thomas L. Miller, chief medical officer of University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics, said Thursday after Mulder’s vaccination.

“The 50 states in the union are all struggling to get this vaccine out to the public and into their arms,” Miller said, noting that states are ranging from 15% delivery to 60% delivery — putting Utah somewhere in the middle.

UDOH officials have said the discrepancy between doses shipped and doses administered includes shipments still in transit, and a lag time of when providers report to the state how many doses they have administered.

“You will see, in the next 30 to 60 days, a much more rapid uptake of the vaccine in a more efficient way,” Miller said. “This is hard work. We will get better, and get more and more people vaccinated.”

Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare, said Thursday that “the vaccine rollout was a little slow to start, but, man, did we learn fast, and did we start vaccinating at high volumes right away.”

Intermountain officials said this week that they distributed nearly 25,000 doses of the vaccine as of Monday, out of some 30,000 doses the hospital system received. The remainder, a spokesman said, should be distributed by the end of the week.

Stenehjem said the rollout required health care professionals to build a vaccination system from scratch.

“We don’t have clinics that do that. That wasn’t something where we had health care workers just waiting around to do that,” Stenehjem said during Intermountain’s weekly community briefing Thursday on Facebook Live. “This was a volunteer effort. We had health care workers coming in on their day off, volunteering at night, or taking time during the week to go in and vaccinate people.”

Of University of Utah Health’s 18,500 employees, Miller said, about 10,800 have received at least one shot in the arm so far. Miller predicted 80% of the hospital system’s employees eventually will sign up to get the vaccine.

Mulder said she’d recommend the vaccine to the 20% of her colleagues who are reluctant to get it, but “each individual has to weigh their own risks and benefits, and in the end, it’s their choice and I respect it.”

Pharmacy staffs, Stenehjem said, are adhering to all the storage criteria defined by the vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. “I don’t think we’re keeping the vaccines on the shelf too long,” he said.

As the rollout continues, past the health care workers in Phase 1, Stenehjem said, “I don’t think, moving forward, the limitation is going to be the vaccination effort. I think the limitation is going to be availability of the vaccine.”

Stenehjem cited past community efforts on big projects — such as organizing and putting on the 2002 Winter Olympics — as a sign that Utah will rally when large amounts of the vaccine arrive and need to be deployed quickly to the community. “Utah’s very good at logistics,” he said.