Utah expanding COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to all adults

“We just want to make it very simple” and drop restrictions on access as holidays approach, Gov. Spencer Cox said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Retired oncology nurse Wendy Dewey lines up stickers and action hero bandages as 12-15 year olds get their vaccinations against COVID-19 at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy on Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

The state of Utah is encouraging all of the state’s vaccine providers to give booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to all adults.

Gov. Spencer Cox announced the policy change Thursday in his monthly news conference on KUED. It goes into effect Friday.

Health care providers have been giving booster doses for the last few weeks, though under some limitations — going to people 65 or older, or adults with other underlying health conditions. Cox’s announcement removes those limitations, in line with new rules expected this week from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Utah joins other states that are expanding eligibility for the boosters before the CDC and FDA give the go-ahead. According to The Washington Post, California was the first to expand access earlier this month, followed close behind by Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, West Virginia, Kansas, Maine, Rhode Island and Louisiana.

Cox said the Utah Department of Health also is asking vaccine providers to reach out proactively to patients 65 and older, to recommend they get their boosters.

“The whole booster discussion has been very confusing to most people,” Cox said. “We just want to make it very simple, especially as we’re heading into the holiday season.”

The CDC is recommending that adults get their third doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least six months after they received the second dose — or get a second dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months after getting their first dose.

“The CDC gave out recommendations that people who are at high risk of infection get these booster doses. And, unfortunately, here in Utah, we continue to have very high rates of transmission and we’ve seen quite a few breakthrough cases,” said Dr. Leisha Nolen, the state’s epidemiologist, in a follow-up virtual news conference Thursday.

The FDA and CDC have said people can mix and match brands of vaccine, though many doctors recommend sticking with the brand patients received initially.

Since boosters were approved in August, Nolen said, some 280,000 Utahns have received them. Among Utahns 65 and older who are eligible, 60% of them have received the booster, she said.

As of Thursday’s UDOH report, 47,811 children in that age group have received their first child-sized dose of the Pfizer vaccine in just over two weeks since the group was first eligible to get it. That’s 13.1% of the kids in that group in the state.

Also, 61.3% of Utah children ages 12 to 18 — 228,303 of them — have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“Those are mind-boggling numbers that a year ago would have blown us all away,” Cox said.

Vaccination statistics are encouraging, Nolen said, but it is “frustrating to all of us who’ve been working so hard, who’ve done what we should to prevent infections, to still see so many cases and still see our hospitals so overwhelmed.”

Nolen added that “one thing that should really help us is we’re getting little kids vaccinated. In Utah, we have a lot of young kids, and until now they were susceptible to infection, and they were often probably bringing it home to their families. … We really hope that by getting those 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated, we can help turn the trend and get the case numbers to come down.”