Demand surges for COVID-19 vaccination appointments, as some 700,000 Utahns become eligible

Monday was the ‘official’ sign-up date for Utahns age 50 and older and with certain health conditions, though some agencies started early.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Angela Bolt administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Morarty, at the Mountain America Expo site in Sandy on Monday, March 8, 2021.

The hottest ticket in Utah this week is an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination, now that another 700,000 Utahns are eligible for their first jab.

Monday was the first official day for Utahns 50 and older to sign up for the vaccinations, under new eligibility rules announced Thursday by Gov. Spencer Cox. The governor also added people 16 and older with diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and a body mass index of 30 or higher — a level considered “obese” — to the list of those eligible for the vaccines.

People rushed to fill the appointment slots as they went up on websites for county health departments, pharmacies and health companies.

[Read more: Here’s where eligible Utahns can get COVID-19 vaccination appointments]

“We figured we’d put out the appointments and they’d be gobbled up, and that’s what we’ve seen,” said Trevor Warner, a spokesman for the Davis County Health Department.

On Monday, Warner’s agency had booked some 1,100 appointments for people 50 and older getting their first dose — and a daily total of 1,800 appointments. The department expects to give out about 2,100 doses a day the rest of this week, for a weekly total of between 11,000 and 13,000 vaccinations.

That should match how many doses Davis County will be allocated, Warner said. “By the time our clinic wraps up Saturday, we should be out of vaccine for the week,” he said.

Salt Lake County didn’t wait until Monday. The health department in Utah’s most populous county was scheduling appointments under the new eligibility rules within hours of Cox’s announcement Thursday.

On Friday, the Salt Lake County Health Department scheduled 6,590 appointments through its system, said spokesman Nicholas Rupp. The county uses the statewide Vaccinate Utah website, and by Monday the only appointments available on the site for this week were in Blanding, in San Juan County in Utah’s far southeast corner.

Salt Lake County still has more than 20,000 appointments available after this week, through April 3, Rupp said.

Getting an appointment through pharmacies wasn’t easy, either. The Harmons supermarket chain, whose pharmacies have been giving out vaccinations at 15 locations along the Wasatch Front, posted on its website that “we are fully booked for vaccination appointments,” and urged customers to check back on the site next Monday morning.

Intermountain Healthcare had filled 90% or more of its appointments in six of its seven vaccination sites, said Lance Madigan, a spokesman for the hospital system. The exception, Madigan said, was at Ogden’s McKay-Dee Hospital, which was about 80% full.

Intermountain staff are calling people on its waiting list to fill the remaining slots, Madigan said.

The appointment schedule at University of Utah Health was nearly full, said spokeswoman Julie Kiefer. Their system does not have open registration for the vaccine; instead, U. Health scans through its existing patients’ electronic medical records, and invites eligible patients to make appointments to get the vaccine.

U. Health opened three more vaccination sites on Monday, at the system’s health centers in Farmington, South Jordan and in the Sugar House neighborhood.

The South Jordan and Sugar House locations are expected to run out of vaccines by Wednesday, due to “a temporary reduction in vaccine supply,” Kiefer said. Those sites should set up more appointments for vaccinations later in March, she said.

Nomi Health saw an increase in people scheduling appointments immediately after Cox’s announcement Thursday, spokeswoman Jenny Olsen said Monday. The company has been running vaccination sites at five Megaplex Theatres locations along the Wasatch Front, and has opened a sixth clinic in Orem.

Correction, 5:15 p.m. March 8, 2021: An earlier version of this article miscounted the weekly number of vaccine doses the Davis County Health Department expects to administer this week.