Tribune Editorial: Utah owes us an accounting of where vaccines are going

The state, the feds, the hospitals, the local health departments, and the pharmacies hired to administer coronavirus shots should all know where each dose is

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pharmacy tech Mikaela Brigino prepares the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for seniors and staff at assisted living The Ridge Foothill in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, as the rollout continues at long-term care facilities.

We live in an age in which the shipment of a pair of never-worn baby shoes can be tracked from departure to arrival by looking at a smartphone. We live in a moment when there is nothing of more public interest than the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine.

So it is difficult to understand why the state of Utah cannot or will not account for just how many doses of these precious medicines have been delivered to our state, exactly who received them, how many they have used and whether anyone is watching to make sure none goes to waste.

The public’s faith that the vaccine is being efficiently delivered and fairly administered will matter a great deal in a culture where far too many people aren’t sure they want to get the vaccine. A great many more are worried that those who do get it are the beneficiaries of some special treatment.

The state, the feds, the hospitals, the local health departments, and the pharmacies hired to administer vaccines in long-term care homes should all know where each dose is, where it is going and, should it be unneeded there, where it should go next.

On Jan. 8, as one of his first acts as Utah’s new governor, Spencer Cox announced a plan that put the state’s 13 local health departments in charge of getting the jab to those who need it most.

In order to make sure that the limited amount of vaccine doses would be used as efficiently as possible, Cox ordered that any vaccine that sat at any provider for more than seven days would have to be turned back over to the state to be redirected to some other provider that had burned through its allotment and could make quick use of more.

Fair enough. Except that, in answer to repeated requests from The Salt Lake Tribune, the state is not saying how many doses it has ordered to be sent to each provider, when they arrived or how many have been injected by each, and thus we have no verification that the seven-day turnaround rule — or any other part of the plan — is being observed.

The state has also been in a troublesome dispute with the two national pharmacy chains — CVS and Walgreens — hired by the federal government to administer the vaccine in long-term care facilities across the nation.

The Utah Department of Health said the pharmacy giants were, as of Sunday, holding a stash of more than 23,000 doses that were supposed to be given to residents and staff of long-term care facilities, doses that should, by the governor’s rules, be clawed back by the state for redistribution. CVS and Walgreens denied that they were holding any such surplus.

Tuesday, the state announced that more than 28,000 doses that had been earmarked to be shipped to Walgreens and CVS in Utah would be transmitted to the state instead.

All of this follows the troublesome mismanagement of state resources early in the pandemic, when millions were allocated to unproven medications (though the state got its money back) and to testing plans that have never lived up to the hype.

We should insist that the state — and the federal government and any and all contractors involved in the supply chain — make all this information publicly available just as rapidly as they acquire it themselves. And Cox, as the public face of the operation, must make himself available to answer questions for more than the 30-minute weekly sessions he has offered to date.

It is not secret or proprietary information. It is data that everyone who is expected to help in slowing the spread of the pandemic — which is all of us — has a right, and a need, to know.