How Utahns age 70 and older can get COVID-19 vaccine before a broader group is eligible starting March 1

Then they’ll be in the same pool as all other eligible residents; here’s how seniors can pursue vaccine before that.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kenley Hansen gets a COVID-19 vaccination from Kirsten Weber, as Utah County residents lined up for vaccinations in a former Shopko store in Spanish Fork, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.

When Gov. Spencer Cox announced that the state will expand who can get vaccinated against COVID-19 starting on March 1, he made a point of emphasizing that Utah won’t “push the 70-year-olds and older to the back of the line.”

But, as of next month, they’ll no longer be at the front of the line, either.

“They will still be eligible,” said Utah Department of Health spokesman Tom Hudachko, “but [they] will be in the same pool as everyone else.”

That pool will include residents age 65 and older and anyone over age 18 who has certain chronic or severe health conditions.

But local health departments will focus the rest of February on finishing getting vaccines into the arms of people 70 and older, state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said.

And Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson added that 29 Smith’s pharmacies and 18 Walmart locations will be receiving vaccine doses starting Feb. 11, giving seniors other paths to vaccination.

[Read more: These Walmarts in Utah will begin providing COVID-19 vaccines to seniors on Friday]

Salt Lake County sets a deadline if you want a guarantee

Seniors who sign up on Salt Lake County’s appointment notification list are guaranteed they’ll be in line as more vaccine becomes available, said health department spokesman Nicholas Rupp — but only if they register by Feb. 28.

The county health department is encouraging residents 70-plus who haven’t signed up to do so at slco.org/health/COVID-19/vaccine/. (Those without internet access can call 385-468-7468, although wait times can be long.)

“We’re going to schedule their appointments before we schedule appointments for anybody 65 and up,” Rupp said.

For seniors on the notification list, “we are going to get them scheduled through February and, if necessary, into March,” Rupp said, “before we begin scheduling people 65-plus and people younger than that with underlying health conditions.”

Signing up on the list guarantees an appointment, but it doesn’t guarantee when. Residents will be notified when one becomes available.

And when someone receives a first dose, their second dose is “automatically set aside for them,” Rupp said. “Those second doses won’t be affected by anybody getting a first dose, whether it’s another 70-plus or someone 65-plus.”

How to get a vaccination at Smith’s Food & Drug and Walmart pharmacies

Utah seniors who already have vaccination appointments through their local or regional health department should keep those, Henderson noted.

But others can turn to certain Smith’s Food & Drug and Walmart pharmacies, which will begin providing vaccine next week.

At the stores, only those age 70 and older will be eligible through the end of February. (Pharmacies will not vaccinate healthcare workers and school staff who are currently eligible.)

Smith’s is encouraging Utahns 70-plus to go to smithsfoodanddrugs.com/covidvaccine to sign up for appointments — when they become available. “Once we have vaccine in hand next week, then we’re going to open up the appointments,” said Jaime Montuoro, Smith’s pharmacy director.

(Those who do not have internet access can call 866-211-5320.)

Registration for appointments will begin either Tuesday or Wednesday; the goal is to begin “shots in arms” on Thursday.

“Just to be extra sure that we’re not promising doses that we don’t have in hand yet, we wait to receive them” before scheduling appointments, Montuoro said. And the first doses are scheduled to arrive on Monday. “The best thing for people to do is to monitor the website for availability, starting on Tuesday.”

Each participating pharmacy will receive about 100 doses per week, so there will never be a big crowd. “It’s not like a mass clinic,” Montuoro said.

People will be told to arrive at their scheduled time; they’ll have to confirm the information they provided online; get their shot; and then sit socially distanced while they’re monitored for 15 to 30 minutes.

Smith’s, which has already been administering shots in Idaho, Nevada and Arizona, knows “there’s a lot of passion and interest in the vaccine,” Montuoro said.

They’ve had people “come to the stores, hoping they can nab one somehow,” Montuoro said. “But we’re not taking walk-ins.”

Smith’s will announce which of its locations in Utah will have doses available when it opens appointment scheduling, and it will prioritize its locations in rural counties and “underserved areas in our metro areas,” Montuoro said.

Patients will not be charged for the vaccines.

Walmart released its list of stores on Feb. 10: These Walmarts in Utah will begin providing COVID-19 vaccines to seniors on Friday

What will change on March 1?

On March 1, when the number of Utahns eligible to receive a vaccination increases, no one in any age age or health condition group will have priority over anyone else.

It’s the same pattern the state followed in December, Hudachko pointed out. For three weeks, hospital healthcare workers had priority. But when eligibility was opened to all health care workers, hospital workers became part of the larger pool.

So as of March 1, “we aren’t able to, within the eligibility group, give priority based on age. It is kind of a first-come, first served for the entire age group,” Montuoro said.