Utah will open mass COVID-19 vaccination sites and needs volunteers

Gov. Spencer Cox expects ‘a significant surge’ in vaccine doses sent to the states this spring.

Mass COVID-19 vaccination sites may become a sign of spring in Utah this year, much like sego lilies and orange traffic cones.

“You’ll see them at stadiums, you’ll see them at movie theaters, you’ll see them at parking lots,” Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday, during his weekly COVID-19 media briefing.

“We are anticipating a significant surge in vaccine availability coming to our state,” Cox said, through March, April and May.

“It is possible if everything goes right and as planned — and it rarely does — that we could have a vaccine available for every adult in Utah who wants one [by] May,” Cox said.

Mass vaccination sites will be the centerpiece of the state’s vaccine rollout this spring, Cox said. “We need sites that can do thousands every day, in order to do this logistically,” he said.

The first priority will be large drive-thru sites, to get the most doses to the most people, he said. Beyond that, Cox said, the plan calls for smaller neighborhood sites, mobile units, and some house calls for people who can’t get to a vaccination site.

All those sites will require staff, so Cox and Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson announced an effort to recruit volunteers to help distribute the vaccine across Utah.

“We’re going to need a lot more help than we have right now,” Cox said. “We’re going to need you. We’re going to need a lot of you.”

Volunteers are being asked to go online to register at www.utahresponds.org, a statewide volunteer registry.

“I’ve had doctors, I’ve had all sorts of people say, ‘How can I help?’” Henderson said. “We have immediate need for vaccinators — people who can give vaccines.”

In addition to licensed medical professionals, Henderson said, the state also needs volunteers with other skills — such as data entry, security and traffic control. “It’s a monumental effort, and a huge task,” Henderson said.

Volunteers are being asked to contribute at least a four-hour shift, Henderson said.

She noted that volunteers will not be given priority for the vaccine; they will need to qualify under current eligibility rules to be inoculated.

“Just because you volunteer doesn’t mean you qualify for a vaccine,” she said.

Cox’s plans depend on Utah receiving a larger supply of COVID-19 vaccines from manufacturers, doled out by the federal government. The Biden administration, he said, announced an increase in weekly allocations of 11 million doses nationwide — which will mean another 4,200 doses in Utah per week.

“We will take them and we will use them,” Cox said.

The federal government soon will be distributing vaccines directly to some community health centers; Cox said the state is working to find out which centers in Utah might get them.

This allocation comes on top of recent announcements that Walmart and Smith’s pharmacies will be giving out the vaccine to eligible patients.

As of Thursday, Cox said, more than half of the Utahns 70 and older — the most recent group to become eligible to get the vaccine — have received either their first or second doses. That’s important, Cox said, because 73% of the 1,774 Utahns who have died from COVID-19 are in that age group.

A person’s immigration status will not be a factor in whether they get the vaccine, Cox said.

“This is a global pandemic. The virus doesn’t care where you’re from. The virus doesn’t check to see if your papers are good or valid,” Cox said, responding in English and again in Spanish to a question from a Univision reporter. “It just cares if you’re a living, breathing human being. Our response should be the same. We should be treating the virus the way the virus is treating us.”

“We’re very bullish and very optimistic” about the vaccine rollout, Cox said. He quoted one of his staffers, who said: “It feels like we’re in the fourth quarter of the pandemic, and we have a lead.”

Getting back to “normal,” Cox said, requires enough people get the vaccine — at least 70% of the population — to build up herd immunity.

“Get this vaccine, because we will live happily ever after. We will be able to get back to normal,” Cox said. “We will have celebrations and concerts, and we will be able to hug our grandparents, and all of those things again — if you get the vaccine. So just get the vaccine.”