Utah Gov. Spencer Cox announced Thursday that Utahns age 65 and older would be able to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations starting “immediately.”
While vaccine distribution was previously expected to open for that age group on March 1, Cox said it could happen now, as the weekly allocations of doses in the state continue to increase and as demand has declined among the 70 and older population, more than 60% of whom have received their first doses. The date of availability for those with certain underlying conditions will remain the first of next month, as previously announced.
“We will ask for your continued patience as this will flood phone lines and servers and more and more people will be trying to sign up as those slots become available,” Cox said Thursday during a monthly news conference with PBS Utah Thursday morning. “If you can’t find an appointment immediately, keep trying and you will get your turn.”
Even before the governor finished speaking, the Salt Lake County Health Department website took down its warning that only those 70 and older could schedule an appointment, and opened up registration on a sliding scale over the next few days.
The department said in a tweet that it would allow those 69 and older to begin registering at 6 p.m. Thursday, those 68 and older at 6 p.m. Friday, and so on in one-year increments until registration was fully opened to those 65 and older at 6 p.m. Monday.
The details and appointment signup are available at the county’s website at https://slco.org/health/COVID-19/vaccine/seniors/. The county also offers an appointment phone line at 385-468-7468, which is staffed 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday.
In Utah County, the second most populous in the state after Salt Lake, the health department said appointment registration was immediately opening up to those 65 and older.
The Utah County Health Department warned that appointment slots “will fill up quickly.” It suggested texting the message “UCHEALTH” to 888777 to be notified about new slots opening. It also provided a hotline help number at 801-851-4357, operated from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Davis County also said it would begin scheduling appointments right away for those 65 and over.
“Davis County residents can make appointments now! (Yes, you can schedule for this afternoon!),” the department said in a tweet.
It encouraged residents to use online registration at its website, https://webportal.daviscountyutah.gov/App/CovidPublic/home, but also said people needing help could call 801-525-4900.
Cox said he anticipates those 65 and older and Utahns with certain underlying conditions — which together comprise about 400,000 people — could be vaccinated by mid-to-late March, after which point he said the state plans to open up distribution to those 55 and up.
Additionally, he said, state leaders are “working with the experts at the health department to layer in the rest of the co-morbidities, those underlying health conditions that aren’t as serious as this first wave but are still serious,” he said. “We’re doing a complete risk assessment — so we really are looking at risk of death and hospitalization — and that’s how we’re making these decisions.”
Here is a list of those qualifying health conditions, according to the Utah Department of Health:
• Solid organ transplant recipients.
• Certain cancers.
• People who are immunocompromised (have a weakened immune system) from blood, bone marrow or organ transplants; HIV; use of corticosteroids long-term, or use of other immune-weakening medicines long-term.
• Severe kidney disease or dialysis, or with stage 4 or 5 chronic kidney disease.
• Uncontrolled diabetes.
• Severe obesity (body mass index over 40).
• Chronic liver disease, including chronic hepatitis B or C.
• Chronic heart disease (not including hypertension).
• Severe chronic respiratory disease (other than asthma).
• Neurologic conditions that impair respiratory function, including Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, quadriplegia or hemiplegia.
• Stroke and dementia (Alzheimer’s, vascular, frontotemporal).
• Asplenia, including splenectomy or a spleen dysfunction, including sickle cell disease.
Gov. Spencer Cox
With the anticipated number of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna expected to increase in the coming months, and if the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine gets authorization soon, Cox said he anticipates that “every adult who wants a vaccine should be eligible for a vaccine” sometime in April or May.
That’s even as President Joe Biden this week gave a slower timeline, saying during a town hall that every American who wants a coronavirus vaccine will have access to one by the end of July.
Asked whether Utah’s projections were too optimistic, Cox said he’s noticed that the Biden administration likes to “underpromise and overdeliver” on the coronavirus response and that the state is working off the hard data it’s been given from the federal government to form timelines.
“This week in our meeting with the Biden administration, they were talking about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as if it will receive its approval and that they were still on course for their manufacturing deadlines,” he said. “So we’ll revise [our projections] as they come. That’s what we’ve done from the very beginning. But we’re also far ahead of the projections that were given in December and even into January. We feel very confident about that.”
Vaccine rollout could be slowed, Cox noted, if something happens in the production cycle or the delivery cycle, as happened this week when a St. George shipment was delayed because of severe weather conditions across the Midwest. Those doses should be coming to the state “very quickly,” he said.
As the state has so far gotten 563,608 doses of the vaccine into arms (a number that includes first and second doses), Cox noted that case counts, the percent positivity rate of COVID-19 tests, and hospitalizations are all decreasing, which is “very good news for our state.”
Along with those changes, he said six counties have moved from a high transmission index to a moderate transmission index. That puts eight counties in the moderate level and five counties in the low transmission level.
But Cox encouraged people not to throw caution to the wind as cases decline and to continue taking safety precautions even in those lower-transmission areas as research shows the presence of more contagious variants in the United States.
“If [state epidemiologist] Dr. [Angela] Dunn were here today, she would tell you and she would have me tell you that it is not a good time to let up on the things that keep us safe and protect us, that will continue to drive down those rates and hospitalizations and deaths, including especially mask wearing,” Cox said.
He also encouraged people to continue to get tested so they can isolate and avoid spreading the virus if they have it.
The grocery store pharmacies that have been authorized to give COVID-19 vaccinations posted on their websites Thursday that all available appointments this week had been filled. But they suggested checking back at 9 a.m. Monday to see if new appointment slots had been opened up.
Here’s a list of the phone numbers for Utah’s Department of Health and local health departments:
(Box Elder, Cache, and Rich counties)
(Juab, Millard, Piute, Sanpete, Sevier, and Wayne counties)
435-623-0696 (Juab County)
435-462-2449 or 435-835-2231
435-743-5723 or 435-864-3612 (Millard County)
435-577-2521 (Piute County)
435-836-1317 (Wayne County)
435-896-5451 (Sevier County)
(Carbon, Emery, and Grand counties)
435-637-3671 (Price office)
435-381-2252 (Castle Dale office)
435-259-5602 (Moab office)
(Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane, and Washington counties)
(Daggett, Duchesne, and Uintah counties)
435-247-1177 (Vernal office)
435-722-6300 (Roosevelt office)
(Morgan and Weber counties)