Utah is about to run out of COVID-19 vaccines — again

As counties highlight their new vaccination strategies, Gov. Spencer Cox says the state can’t get all the doses it needs.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A socially distanced waiting area for Utah County residents to get their COVID-19 vaccinations in a former Shopko store in Spanish Fork, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.

Utah ran out of doses of COVID-19 vaccine last week, and it’s about to run out again, Gov. Spencer Cox said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

That’s both “good news and bad news,” Cox said — good news because the state has done a better job of getting vaccines administered and “bad news, obviously, that we need more. We’ll run out very early this week because of the procedures that we put in place.”

Cox said Utah is “doing much better” than “when I became governor three weeks ago” — moving from “about 36th” to “about ninth” in the nation for doses delivered. “We’re certainly trending in the right direction.”

The state began requiring agencies to administer vaccines within a week of receiving them. Cox said, and “expanding the population that was eligible for those vaccines.”

“We did 75,000 vaccinations last week, but we only receive 33,000 vaccinations a week,” he said. “So we chewed through that backlog that had been building up and used every dose.”

The state needs 75,000 to 100,000 doses per week, he said, “but right now, unfortunately, we can only get 33,000. That’s our share.”

As of Sunday, Utah did still have 3,164 first doses under state control that had been in Utah for more than a week and had gone unused, according to Rich Saunders, executive director of the Utah Department of Health. The state was retrieving those Monday from a local pharmacy, hospitals and community health clinics that had not used them, he said.

But Cox had noted Sunday that of first doses received in the previous week, 100% had been given to residents, and he predicted the same would occur this week.

The problem, Cox said on “Morning Joe,” is “really is just on the manufacturing end.” And the state now has “better insight into the manufacturing process so that we can plan for additional doses down the road instead of just learning one week at a time.” Manufacturers are giving the state “a three-week window, which is a huge, huge improvement.”

The governor expressed optimism about reports that two more manufacturers may soon receive approval for two more vaccines.

“That’s what we need more than anything,” Cox said. If vaccines from Johnson and Johnson and AstraZeneca are approved, “we could double or triple the number of doses that we’re seeing by April. … That’s all tentative. But that’s the kind of news we’re excited to hear. Then we get to open the floodgates much more widely.”

Later Wednesday, two Utah counties unveiled efforts to expand their reach in battling COVID-19.

Salt Lake County showed off its two new mobile health centers, retrofitted RVs that will be sent to immunize harder-to-access populations — such as Latino and Black communities — once they become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

When the mobile centers are deployed, “we can vaccinate as many people as we have vaccine that allows it,” said Gabriel Moreno, spokesman for the Salt Lake County Health Department. The units each cost about $250,000, and were paid for through federal CARES Act grants, Moreno said.

In Spanish Fork, the Utah County Health Department this week opened its new vaccination facility, inside a shuttered Shopko store.

The Spanish Fork location can have up to 32 nurses stationed at a time, putting shots in people’s arms, said Aislynn Tolman-Hill, spokeswoman for the Utah County Health Department.

The site — the department’s second, after its Provo location — is inoculating around 1,000 people a day, and the department hopes to serve more when enough vaccines are available, Tolman-Hill said.