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Senate President Stuart Adams wants to lower Utah’s vaccination age from 70 to 65

State’s focus for now is older Utahs; COVID-19 has killed almost 1 out of every 100 residents over age 85.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune ) Members of the Hill Air Force Base honor guard remove the casket with Dallas Lynn Stevens, who served 38 years in the Utah Air National Guard as he was laid to rest at the Utah Veterans Cemetery & Memorial Park in Bluffdale on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. Stevens was buried with military honors.

More than three-quarters of the Utahns who have died of COVID-19 are age 65 and over — and the pandemic has claimed the lives of almost one in every 100 Utahns who are older than 85.

The 85-plus death rate is an estimate based on the number of deaths provided by the Utah Department of Health (as of Jan. 13) and 2019 population estimates from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah. But it speaks to the toll the pandemic is taking on the state’s oldest seniors.

Senate President Stuart Adams cited similar numbers during his remarks Tuesday on the opening day of the Legislative session, noting that 77% of all fatalities in the state are among people 65 and older. Adams said he plans to push for Utahns 65 and older to receive vaccinations as soon as possible.

“Vaccinating those 65 and older is the most significant step we can take to protect lives and livelihoods,” he said. “If we do that, we can open up the parts of our economy that are still struggling, including our entertainment facilities, convention centers and hospitality services.”

The death rate among all Utahns is about one in 2,130 — so those 85-plus are dying of COVID-19 at a rate about 21 times greater than the general population in the state.

(The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that the 2019 population of Utah was 3.206 million. The total coronavirus death toll in Utah, as of Jan. 19, was 1,507, which is about 0.047% of all Utahns.)

Currently, Utahns 70 and over are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, if they get one of the appointments being swiftly claimed at local health departments. The death rate among those 70 to 84 is about one in 330 — almost 6½ times that of the general population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that all Americans 65 and older should get access to COVID-19 vaccines. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox announced last week that the state would stick with 70-plus for the time being, pending the availability of more vaccine doses.

“The problem is simply limited supply at this point,” Jennifer Napier-Pearce, Cox’s spokeswoman, said in a statement on Tuesday. “We expect to expand to 65+ as soon as possible and we will announce that change when we have enough vaccinations to administer to that demographic.”

Cox said last week that he expects local and regional health departments to open up registration to people age 65 to 69 by late February or early March.

The death rate among Utahns ages 65 to 69 is .12% — about one in every 860 people in that age group. That’s about 2½ times the general population of the state.

As of Tuesday, 1,165 of the 1,507 coronavirus-related deaths reported in Utah were people age 65 and older — the 77% cited by Adams.

The death rate among Utahns under the age of 65 is roughly 0.012% — about one in 8,340.

Adams argued Tuesday that focusing vaccine distribution on those 65 and older would be the most effective use of the state’s limited doses.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Senate President Stuart Adams opens Utah State Legislature 2021 legislative session at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021.

“I think what we need to do is, instead of vaccinating younger individuals even in some of those other areas we’ve focused on with the vaccine, we’ve seen very, very few fatalities under the age of 40,” he told reporters. “So the focus needs to be getting that 77% of our fatality area, those over 65, vaccinated. If we do that, we’ll save lives, but we’ll also save livelihoods.”

Utah first allocated doses for front-line health care workers, then staff and residents of long-term care facilities and health care workers and outside hospitals, followed by teachers and public safety workers. Cox announced Jan. 8 that Utahns age 70 and older would be the next group vaccinated, and their eligibility officially began Monday.

DEATH RATES OF OLDER UTAHNS

Below are approximate death rates of older Utahns, as of Jan. 13:

Utahns 85-plus

Total population • 40,811

Deaths • 382

Death rate • 0.94%

Utahns 70 to 84

Total population • 196,884

Deaths • 593

Death rate • 0.30%

Utahns 65 to 69

Total population • 124,012

Deaths • 144

Death rate • 0.12%

Salt Lake Tribune reporter Bethany Rodgers contributed to this report

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