Any Utah organization — including churches, workplaces and community groups — can now host a mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic, and the state of Utah will pay for it, Gov. Spencer Cox announced.
”We are shifting our approach to bring the vaccine directly to you,” Cox said at his weekly COVID-19 media briefing Thursday. “We will come to you, and at no cost to your organization. … We want to make it as easy as possible. We want to take away any excuses.”
The state will set aside 25,000 doses from next week’s allocation of COVID-19 vaccine doses for these mobile clinics, Cox said. He added that groups can go to the state’s website — coronavirus.utah.gov — to request a mobile clinic to come to their location.
“Be patient. Every time we do something like this, we get overwhelmed, which is a good problem to have,” Cox said.
The state will shift gradually from mass vaccination sites to mobile clinics, he said, and eventually to doctor’s offices.
Going through organizations is “a way to reach more people, and get more uptake more quickly,” Cox said. “This is a speed game. If we want to avoid the variants [of the coronavirus], if we want to avoid any additional surges, we’ve got to get to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.”
One of the state’s biggest mass vaccination sites — in the Grand Ballroom of the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City — will close on May 29, Nicholas Rupp, spokesman for the Salt Lake County Health Department, said Thursday.
“We are shifting those resources to pop-up clinics in underserved communities and to clinics with community partners that serve diverse, multicultural, and underserved populations,” Rupp said in an email to The Salt Lake Tribune.
The shift, he said, is “taking those additional vaccination opportunities to people where they are, rather than asking people to come to us.”
Salt Lake County’s other mass sites — at the Maverik Center in West Valley City, and the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy — will continue operations, Rupp said.
And on Monday, the Mountain America location, at 9575 S. State St., will begin a pilot program of walk-in vaccinations, no appointment necessary, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — “a ‘stop by on your lunch break’ opportunity,” Rupp said.
The Davis County Health Department announced Friday it will allow walk-ins at its mass vaccination site at the Legacy Events Center, 151 S. 1100 West in Farmington, starting Monday.
Davis County residents are still encouraged to make appointments online to get the vaccine — but the department will no longer turn away people who have not signed up in advance.
The Legacy Events Center will also be changing its hours in May. The center’s current hours — 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday — will be extended to 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays for two weeks. Starting the week of May 17, the Thursday and Friday hours will change to 1-8 p.m. And from May 24 on, the center will be closed Mondays through Wednesdays, and open Thursdays and Fridays from 1 to 8 p.m., and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
After mobile clinics, the “next wave of our vaccine effort,” Cox said, will be individual doctors.
“As you can imagine, those numbers are going to be much smaller,” Cox said. “A doctor in his office is not going to deliver 500 doses of vaccine a day. You might get two or three.”
Cox said the “last wave” of vaccinations — the last people to get over their vaccine hesitancy — is “going to happen with trusted doctors. People who may not be getting it now will go to their doctor for something else, and they’ll be able to have a direct, one-on-one communication with somebody that they trust, and then they’ll want to get the vaccine.”
To help individual doctors, Cox said he would soon lift a provision of an executive order he signed when he took office in January — a requirement that any health care provider who is allocated doses of the COVID-19 vaccine must put those doses in people’s arms within one week.
“We know it’s going to be impossible for some of our providers to use them in seven days,” Cox said. “We don’t want them to say, ‘Well, I’m not going to take any because I can’t use it.’ We want it there so that when it’s needed, it will be available.”
Vaccines now are shipped in multidose vials — usually five doses per container or more — which is more efficient for mass distribution. Cox said he and other officials have asked the federal government to approve single-dose vials, to reduce the chance of wasted doses when distribution shifts to doctor’s offices. It’s unclear, Cox said, when those vials will be available.
Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist, pointed out that Utah’s case counts are still plateauing — and “what’s preventing a large surge statewide is vaccination.”
Dunn cited an outbreak at Elk Ridge Middle School in South Jordan, which had 40 COVID-19 cases in two weeks — mostly among children, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine. ”It’s a reminder that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic,” Dunn said.