Watch: Utah is past the ‘vaccine-ecstatic’ phase, Gov. Cox tells Biden, and here’s what it’s trying now

Gov. Spencer Cox joined the president and five other governors to discuss coronavirus vaccination efforts.

Walk-up coronavirus vaccinations, family doctor referrals and surveys of unvaccinated people have been some of the biggest successes in getting shots in arms, according to five governors who joined Utah Gov. Spencer Cox in a virtual meeting Tuesday with President Joe Biden.

“We’ve moved from what I call the ‘vaccine-ecstatic,’ or ‘vaccine-excited’ phase, and we’re now in the ‘vaccine-busy’ or ‘vaccine-curious’ phase,” Cox told Biden in the meeting, joined by the governors of Ohio, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota and New Mexico.

Biden has declared a goal of getting 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4.

Nationwide, more than 58% of adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. In Utah, which is measuring vaccination rates among residents ages 16 and older, that figure is at 57.1% — ranking it in the middle of the 50 states.

Asked about strategies to improve Utahns’ confidence in the coronavirus vaccine, Cox said frequent surveys of unvaccinated people have been key.

“Though our research, it became clear that people trust their family doctors,” local community leaders, religious advisors and other personal relationships, “more than they trust the government,” Cox said.

That has informed how to deploy pop-up vaccine clinics, particularly those that any organization — from community groups, employers and faith congregations — may request from the state, free of charge.

A similar operation in Ohio has driven up vaccinations there, said Gov. Mike DeWine, as has greater availability for walk-up vaccinations and the resumption of Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, which were paused for two weeks as researchers investigated rare but dangerous blood clots in some patients who received it.

The panel of governors included three Republicans — Cox, DeWine and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker — and three Democrats: Janet Mills of Maine, Tim Walz of Minnesota, and Michelle Lynn Lujan Grisham of New Mexico.

“It isn’t Democratic progress or Republican progress; it’s American progress,” Biden told the governors.

Each governor, several of whom have overseen some of the nation’s most successful vaccination efforts, credited local health departments and community leaders for reaching out to more reluctant patients now that the first wave of vaccine enthusiasm is fading. Vaccination rates have dwindled nationwide in recent weeks as states have struggled to persuade residents who either are resistant to getting the vaccine, or — more likely, Cox said — who simply haven’t made it a priority.

“These aren’t people who refuse to get it; they just haven’t gotten around to it yet,” Cox said.

To motivate unvaccinated residents, Cox said, promotional efforts have gone toward the message “that getting the vaccine is the way to get back to the things that we all love, that we all want to do.”

“We have fully vaccinated people. We should start acting like it,” he said, echoing criticism from some health experts that federal guidance for vaccinated people has been overly cautious.

“If anything, we’ve gone a little slower to make sure we’re exactly right in terms of percent of the population that has been vaccinated,” Biden agreed. But he said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is quickly relaxing its guidance.

“I think you’re going to see a more aggressive effort on our part to lay out that, once vaccinated, it’s not only, ‘You can hug your grandchildren.’ You can do a lot more,” Biden said, noting that soon there may be updated recommendations for mask-wearing indoors.

In Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota and New Mexico, more than half of all adults have been fully vaccinated, and more than 60% have been partially vaccinated, according to the CDC. In Utah, 44.3% of residents ages 16 and over have been fully vaccinated as of Monday, according to data from the Utah Department of Health. In Ohio, 45.6% of adults have been fully vaccinated, with 52.9% partially vaccinated, the CDC reported.