Utahns age 16 and older with certain health conditions can make vaccine appointments now, Gov. Cox says

The state will use the honor system as Utahns make appointments, but ‘please, please, please, do not jump ahead in line,’ Cox asks.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gov. Spencer Cox talks about his plans to hopefully burn his mask by July 4th as he speaks at a news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.

Beginning immediately, Utahns age 16 and older with certain severe and chronic health conditions can make appointments to be vaccinated, Gov. Spencer Cox said Thursday.

That shift had been planned to happen on March 1, but is running a few days ahead of schedule.

Cox credited the change to the speed of Utah’s work to vaccinate groups who were already eligible. For example, in the first week that Utahns between the ages of 65 and 69 could make appointments, 29% received their first dose of vaccine.

As Utah now invites residents with qualifying health conditions to be vaccinated, the state is working on the honor system, he noted.

“Please, please, please, do not jump ahead in line,” Cox asked Utahns during his weekly COVID-19 briefing. “If you jump ahead in line, that means there is someone else who won’t get the vaccine as soon as they could have — and it’s very possible that they could end up hospitalized or, even worse, dying. … Those vaccines are coming, and we’re all going to get one sooner rather than later.”

Cox also announced that people who are eligible to be vaccinated are no longer required to wait for appointments in the county where they live. If they can find an appointment in another county, they can sign up and go there to be inoculated. They must return to that county, he added, to get their second dose.

Who gets the vaccine next?

Utahns age 16 and older with certain severe and chronic health conditions are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccine. Here is a list of those qualifying health conditions, according to the Utah Department of Health:

• Solid organ transplant recipients.

• Certain cancers.

• People who are immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system) from blood, bone marrow or organ transplants; HIV; use of corticosteroids long-term, or use of other immune-weakening medicines long-term.

• Severe kidney disease or dialysis, or with stage 4 or 5 chronic kidney disease.

• Uncontrolled diabetes.

• Severe obesity (body mass index over 40).

• Chronic liver disease, including chronic hepatitis B or C.

• Chronic heart disease (not including hypertension).

• Severe chronic respiratory disease (other than asthma).

• Neurologic conditions that impair respiratory function, including Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, quadriplegia or hemiplegia.

• Stroke and dementia (Alzheimer’s, vascular, frontotemporal).

• Asplenia, including splenectomy or a spleen dysfunction, including sickle cell disease.

Sixteen- and 17-year-olds, Cox cautioned, can only receive the Pfizer version of the vaccine, because of federal guidelines. So those making appointments for these teenagers must go to sites that have the Pfizer vaccine.

He also urged people to keep their appointments, or inform the clinic or pharmacy in advance that they have to cancel. Otherwise, Cox said, “that is a dose that could go to waste.”

The state saw a dip in vaccine distribution last week, Cox said, because a shipment of 36,000 doses of the Moderna version was delayed by storms on the East coast. “We are rapidly working to make up the decrease we saw last week,” Cox said.

Cox said Utah has been approved to get 20,000 doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine by early next week — pending federal approval of the vaccine, which is expected as soon as Saturday.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-dose shot, not the two-shot formula of the Pfizer and Moderna versions, which, Cox said, “will help us with some of our harder-to-reach populations.”

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said the state is “headed in the right direction,” with the number of COVID-19 cases declining.

“We need to continue doing what we know works with physical distancing, mask-wearing, avoiding large gatherings, and most importantly, getting the vaccine when it’s your turn to get it,” she said.

Cox expressed optimism that every Utahn will have access to the vaccine by late April or mid-May. “In just a few weeks, we’re going to have more vaccine than we know what to do with,” Cox said, adding health officials will then concentrate on encouraging people who are hesitant about the vaccine to get their shots.

He reiterated the formula for when the state’s mask mandates can be lifted, released in the state’s updated public health order Tuesday: First the state must have 1,633,000 first doses of the vaccine allocated — then add eight weeks. Then, any county in Utah that is designated as having a low transmission rate should have the mask order lifted

So far, the federal government has allocated 444,905 first doses to Utah.

Cox expressed optimism that Utah’s mask mandates could gone by the middle of summer.

“I’m telling you,” Cox told reporters, holding up his face mask, “I’m not going to be wearing this on the Fourth of July. I’m going to be in a parade somewhere, and you’re going to be there covering the parade and you’re going to be really excited. We’re going to put these in the fireworks and blow them up, or burn them, or something.”