Here’s what happened to Utah’s vaccination rates after LDS Church leaders told members to get their shots

Utah’s vaccination pace had bottomed out in early July, but already had been ticking up since then.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Coronavirus vaccination supplies at a clinic at Weber State University in Ogden, Aug. 11, 2021. Vaccination rates ticked up in Utah after an Aug. 12, 2021, statement in which leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urged members to get their shots.

Coronavirus vaccination rates went up in Utah after an Aug. 12 statement in which leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints urged members to get their shots.

But the numbers didn’t rise much more sharply than they already had been increasing before the statement.

Seven-day totals for vaccinations had been making gains of about 4,000 shots administered each week, on average, since Utah’s vaccination rate bottomed out at about 30,000 new doses for the first week in July.

The week after the governing First Presidency of the church issued a statement calling on members to get vaccinated and wear masks to church activities, seven-day vaccination totals rose by more than 5,200. The total went from 50,298 for the week ending Aug. 12 to 55,554 for the week ending Aug. 19.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

It wasn’t the sharpest one-week increase this summer; the week ending Aug. 5 saw a rise of more than 8,200 doses over the week before. This came after Utah’s daily case count exceeded 1,000 per day for the first time since mid-February — though there is no way of knowing whether that was what motivated so many Utahns to get vaccinated.

But the statement may have boosted vaccination rates during what otherwise might have been a lull. The day after the statement, Utah recorded 11,209 vaccine doses administered, the highest single-day total reported since June 11, according to data from the Utah Department of Health.

“One of our drive-thru clinics, which typically see 300 clients, had 524 on August 13th,” noted Aislynn Tolmann-Hill, spokesperson for the Utah County Health Department. But, she added, “it’s hard to say if it has affected the overall rate greatly.”

The new doses reported since the Aug. 12 statement have shifted a bit toward health districts where Latter-day Saints predominate. Utah County, the most Mormon county in the state, reported 22% of the new doses in the two weeks before the statement; that rose to 24% of new doses after the statement. Meanwhile, the share of new doses administered by minority-Mormon Salt Lake County dropped by about the same amount in the same timeframe.

But statewide, there wasn’t a consistent tie between the religious makeup of a health district’s population and its share of new doses after the church’s statement.

The Bear River health district of northern Utah has the state’s second-highest rate of church members of Utah’s 13 health districts, but its share of new doses declined a bit after the church’s statement. Meanwhile, the minority-Mormon Southeast Utah health district saw its share of new doses go up a bit.

And there is no way to know the religious affiliation of those who got their shots after the statement; for example, while Salt Lake County’s share of new doses declined slightly, it is entirely possible that the 28,000 doses administered since the statement were largely sought by the 47% of county residents who are Latter-day Saints.

Both before and after the church’s statement, the correlation between a health district’s vaccination rates and church membership rates has generally been inconsistent. Summit County is by far the state’s least Mormon (28%) and most-vaccinated (70%) health district.

But Latter-day Saints make up only about 40% of San Juan County’s population, and the county is 40% vaccinated — about the same as Utah County, which is 85% Mormon.

In the TriCounty health district of northeast Utah — the least-vaccinated part of the state at just 28% — 62% of residents are Latter-day Saints. That’s a bit less than Davis County, where most residents have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.

The church’s statement also instructed all members to wear masks in church buildings when social distancing isn’t possible — a coronavirus containment measure that members could visibly gauge as they gathered for worship. Members reported a range of compliance at various wards nationwide.