As more Utah hospitals get COVID-19 vaccine, the state reports 30 new deaths and a plateau in cases

Vaccine shipments are getting to Utah more quickly than expected.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Braden Durney gets a COVID-19 vaccine from Brandon Widdison, as Lehi's Mountain Point Medical Center gives out its first COVID-19 vaccines on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020.

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A second wave of COVID-19 vaccine shipments have arrived in Utah, with more hospitals across the state beginning to give shots to their front-line workers.

And as providers discover they can sometimes pull a sixth dose from the vials, which are labeled as having five doses, the supply is going further than expected.

Meanwhile, the number of new coronavirus cases in the state was plateauing Thursday. With 3,203 new diagnoses reported, Utah’s rate of new diagnoses held steady at 2,570 cases per day, the Utah Department of Health reported.

Another 30 deaths reported, putting Utah’s death toll from COVID-19 at 1,126 Thursday, which marked the end of the virus’s deadliest two weeks since the pandemic began. Hospitalizations held steady with 556 Utah patients concurrently admitted.

Still, “our hospital ICUs are continuing to operate above [normal] capacity,” Dr. Angela Dunn, the state’s epidemiologist, said at Thursday’s news conference. That, combined with the 30 new deaths, are indicators that “while there is a lot of hope on the horizon with the vaccine, we still have a long way to go,” Dunn said.

“Please as we move further in the winter holiday season,” she said, “it’s so important that we continue to limit the number of new cases.”

The Utah Department of Health has started tallying vaccine doses on its coronavirus dashboard. As of noon Thursday, 407 doses had been reported as given out statewide. That count is expected to lag behind the actual number of doses administered by a day, a UDOH spokesman said.

A new influx of vaccine

Steward Health Care, which operates five regional hospitals in Utah, got word Wednesday night that it would be receiving the Pfizer version of the vaccine, said Jodi DeJong, a company spokeswoman.

Each regional hospital received one box of the vaccine, which contains about 975 doses, DeJong said. Health care workers at Lehi’s Mountain Point Medical Center received and started administering the first doses Thursday, and other locations were working to get theirs out to employees as quickly as possible, DeJong said.

Three smaller hospitals operated by Intermountain Healthcare — McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, Logan Hospital in Logan and Alta View Hospital in Sandy — either received shipments Thursday or will in the next couple of days, said Lance Madigan, an Intermountain spokesman. McKay-Dee administered about 250 doses Thursday, he said.

St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City received one box of the Pfizer vaccine Thursday, containing 975 doses, said Chris Taylor, spokesman for MountainStar Healthcare.

According to Jill Vicory, spokeswoman for the Utah Hospital Association, as many as two dozen smaller hospitals either received doses Thursday or will by Sunday.

The shipments are moving faster than expected, DeJong said. In the Utah Department of Health’s earlier planning, smaller regional hospitals like Mountain Point weren’t expected to get vaccines until the Moderna Inc. vaccine was available.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve Moderna’s vaccine by Friday, with distribution starting soon after.

Front-line workers at two Salt Lake City hospitals, University of Utah Hospital and LDS Hospital, started getting doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday. Three more large hospitals — Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah Valley Hospital in Provo and Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George — followed quickly behind.

Intermountain Medical, LDS and Utah Valley administered about 400 doses each Thursday, Madigan said.

Sabrina Cole, chief pharmacy officer at Intermountain Healthcare, said Intermountain’s pharmacies have noticed that they can sometimes pull a sixth dose from the five-dose COVID-19 vaccine vials.

The overfill, which is common in the drug industry to account for spillage and unused material, was noted by the FDA at other hospitals Wednesday. The discovery could mean up to 20% more doses that can be administered.

“So far, we have been able to obtain six doses from many of the vials,” Cole said.

Erin Fox, senior pharmacy director at University of Utah Health, said her pharmacists also noticed the overfill in each vial “was enough for an extra dose. Things moved pretty quickly, and [Wednesday], as soon as FDA gave the OK, we started using those extra doses.”

Pharmacies, following directions from Pfizer and the FDA, are not combining leftovers from different vials to make a full dose, Cole said.

Virus likely still spreading

Dr. Miles Hawley, an Intermountain physician, said a Facebook Live discussion that he was excited to have been vaccinated Wednesday. But “the one thing I want to caution people about,” he added, is “now is not the time to let our guard down on wearing face coverings and social distancing.

”We can’t let the excitement of the vaccine keep us from continuing the progress we’re making by wearing face coverings.”

For the past week, 22.26% of all coronavirus tests in Utah have come back positive — the lowest rate since Dec. 1, but still high enough to indicate that a large number of infected people are not being tested and may be spreading the virus unwittingly, state officials have said.

There were 12,885 new test results reported Thursday, slightly above the weeklong average of about 12,300 new tests per day.

In total, 9,791 patients have been hospitalized in Utah for COVID-19, up more than 600 in the past week.

The 30 new deaths reported Thursday were:

  • A Morgan County woman older than 85.

  • Two Weber County women, ages 65 to 84.

  • An Iron County man age 65 to 84.

  • A Washington County man age 65 to 84.

  • Four Salt Lake County women who were older than 85.

  • Two Salt Lake County men who were older than 85.

  • Two Weber County men, ages 45 to 64.

  • A Weber County woman older than 85.

  • A Carbon County man age 45 to 64.

  • Two Cache County men, ages 65 to 84.

  • Two Salt Lake County women, ages 65 to 84.

  • Two Utah County women, ages 65 to 84.

  • A Box Elder County woman age 65 to 84.

  • A Davis County man age 65 to 84.

  • A Sevier County woman older than 85.

  • A Salt Lake County man age 65 to 84.

  • A Sanpete County man age 65 to 84.

  • A Weber County woman age 45 to 64.

  • Two Utah County men, ages 65 to 84.

  • A Utah County man age 45 to 64.

— Reporter Paighten Harkins contributed to this story.