Local health district says it’s ready to handle larger supply of COVID-19 vaccine announced by government

Stock image. | Photo by Nature/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The first weekend of COVID-19 vaccination appointments being opened up for local residents ages 70 and older saw all reservation slots for the rest of the month fill quickly. Due to technical glitches, some residents expressed frustration with trying to get inoculated against the virus that has infected 23,300 and killed 191 people locally since March, including a record-high five people announced Thursday.

Stock photo. | Photo by Arindam Ghosh/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

The spokesman for the local health department said the problem has not been a lack of manpower or a lack of capabilities – it has been a lack of supply. 

Spokesperson David Heaton said the Southwest Utah Public Health Department has been receiving 2,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. That supply is not just for the approximately 35,000 people locally who are 70 and older, but for school staff, first responders and non-hospital medical personnel who also qualify right now for the vaccine in Utah.

“At this rate, it would take two months to get people in this group vaccinated. So when the state asked us what help we need, there’s only one answer: We need more vaccines,” Heaton said, adding that the department has an abundance of manpower that could handle a large influx of vaccine supply on day one. “We have staff trained to handle this. We have the staff to do 2,000 a day.”

The wish for more vaccines may have been granted Thursday. 

On the second day of his administration, President Joe Biden signed an emergency order Thursday to boost COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution. The order, announced on the one-year anniversary of when the first COVID-19 case was detected in the U. S., is part of a 200-page COVID-19 plan released by the White House.

The order activated the Defense Production Act – the same act used during World War II to boost wartime production – to drastically increase production of both the vaccines as well as the equipment like syringes to administer them. 

In this May 2017 file photo, then former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. June 1, 2017 | Steven Senne/Associated Press/St. George News

The plan calls for 100 million Americans to receive their first dose of the vaccine by May 1. According to the Associated Press, 12.3 million Americans have been vaccinated since late December. 

As of Thursday, the Utah Department of Health says 12,887 people in Southern Utah have received their first dose of the vaccine, while 487 people have received their second dose to be fully inoculated. There have 173,587 first doses in the state as a whole.

The more federally-based Biden strategy on COVID-19 vaccine distribution differs from the strategy of the administration of President Donald Trump, which focused on each state relying on its own vaccine policies and distribution. During the recording of the PBS Utah Monthly Governor’s Press Conference Thursday, Gov. Spencer Cox said he welcomed the federal initiative. 

“We are excited about this announcement. I’ve just perused through it, but it’s a good thing,” Cox said. “They’re doing the same thing we’ve been doing here with our local health departments.”

Cox gave particular praise to the president’s change to provide 100% federal reimbursement for emergency COVID-19 supplies and the use of national guardsmen to administer COVID-19 tests and vaccines. Until now, the state has had to foot 25% of the bill. 

Utah Gov. Spencer J. Cox, right, arrives for a COVID-19 briefing at the Utah State Capitol. Jan. 8, 2021, Salt Lake City, Utah | Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News/Associated Press, St. George News

Cox defended his order earlier in the month that local health districts use up their vaccine supply within seven days. He said the only alternative to that was a slower rollout that would have left vaccine supply sitting in freezers and refrigerators. 

“I had to choose between two problems. Either doses sitting on shelves or a crush of people,” Cox said, adding a slower approach would have left the possibility of vaccine sitting unused for too long and needing to be thrown away – something that has been experienced in other states. “I would rather be struck trying to get it than it being thrown away.”

Large vaccination clinic in the plans locally

Another part of the White House vaccine plan is for the creation of larger, mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics nationwide. Some cities are already utilizing stadiums and convention centers to inoculate large amounts of people at once. 

A patient receives a flu vaccination from their car at an annual flu shootout, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, St. George News

Heaton said the Southwest  Utah Public Health Department already has a plan to have such a mass clinic and use last September’s flu vaccination “shootout” at the fairgrounds in Washington County Regional Park as a dry run. 

“Our flu shootout was in preparation for the vaccine rollout, but the vaccine supply has been more of a trickle so that was scaled down to our offices,” Heaton said, adding that if the supply comes in, they have the staff to immediately move to much larger COVID-19 vaccination clinics. “We’re prepared to do that. We’ve never reached our limit.”

Until the federal reinforcement of vaccine supply arrives, there’s the matter of dealing with the present high-demand, low-supply status of getting people inoculated locally against the virus. 

Heaton said Southern Utah has a unique problem compared to the rest of the state, which has a younger demographic. 

“The fact is our older demographic is higher than other counties in the state, Heaton said. 

A woman named Elizabeth receives COVID-19 vaccination shot from a nurse at the Southwest Utah Public Health Department offices in Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 12, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Heaton said one issue the department thinks it has fixed is its technical ones, which caused their website to go down several times during vaccination sign-ups earlier this week. The state has provided some aid in this matter. 

“Our hosting service made some mistakes so that was confusing,” Heaton said. “We are now hosted by Utah state service which should be robust.”

The reservation slots – for at least the first week of February and possibly the second – are expected to go online through SignUpGenius at 9 a.m. Monday. At the same time, residents will also be able to utilize a hotline at 435-986-2549, though the department said it prefers that people try signing up online first.

“It will be a rush, but hopefully the website will be able to handle it a lot better,” Heaton said.

Second doses get their own place in line

While most Southern Utahns still await getting their first shot of the vaccine, the time is coming up for those that received the vaccine when it was first rolled out to receive the second of two COVID-19 vaccine shots.

Two of the COVID-19 vaccines are seen at Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, on Dec. 16, 2020. | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

On Thursday, the local health department announced they will not have to compete with the already high demand of others for reservation slots. The Southwest Utah Public Health Department will be holding separate second-shot clinics.

“We’re looking at doing second-dose clinics separately so people may be relieved that they won’t have to compete for slots with those getting their first shots,” Heaton said. 

The move comes after the governor announced that like the first doses, the second-dose supply will need to be used within seven days by a local health department or it will go back into the vaccine supply chain.

Second-doses will utilize the same SignUpGenius online form as the first-injection clinics and are also going online Monday. 

And like the first-dose clinics, reservation slots may go quicker than the hottest toy of the season on Black Friday. However, Heaton and other health experts say that while a person has to wait 28 days before their second dose, they don’t have to get that second injection on the 28th day.

“There’s not a maximum waiting period so if you can’t get it on the 28th day, you have some leeway,” he said.

Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

  • Those who can currently get the vaccine: Everyone ages 70 and over. K-12 teachers and staff, those that work in nonhospital health care facilities (those in clinics, pharmacies, dentists or other medical offices) and first responders, including law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs.
  • Must register in advance online for an appointment time. Walk-ins will not be accepted.
  • Must have a personal ID, employment ID (if necessary) and wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment.
  • Must get the vaccine in the county you reside in. Proof of residency is required. Part-time residents can get vaccinated with proof of residency.
  • Vaccines are free of charge.
  • Those without email addresses or unable to make reservations online can get help at a specialized hotline at 435-986-2549.

Washington County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department St. George office, 620 S 400 East, 2nd Floor Conference Room, St. George, 84770

When: First dose Jan. 29 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Feb. 4 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m; Second dose Feb. 1 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Feb. 3 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

First dose Jan. 29 click to register (opening up Monday)

First dose Feb. 4 click to register (opening up Monday)

Second dose Feb. 1 click to register (opening up Monday)

Second dose Feb. 3 click to register (opening up Monday)

Iron County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Cedar City office, 260 DL Sargent Dr., Cedar City, 84721.

When: First dose Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (full), Feb. 2 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.; Second dose Feb. 3 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m; K-12 teachers and staff-only clinic Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (full).

First dose click to register (opening up Monday)

Second dose click to register (opening up Monday)

Kane County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Kanab office, 445 N. Main St., Kanab 84741.

When: To be announced

Click to register

Garfield County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Panguitch office, 601 Center St. Panguitch 84759.

When: To be announced

Click to register (opening up Monday)

Beaver County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Beaver Office,  75 1175 North, Beaver 84713.

When: To be announced

(All slots full) Click to register

COVID-19 information resources

St. George News has made every effort to ensure the information in this story is accurate at the time it was written. However, as the situation and science surrounding the coronavirus continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data has changed.

Check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of Jan. 15, 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 22,355 (199.1 new infections per day in seven days, falling since Jan. 14)

  • Washington County: 17,129 (135 per day, falling)
  • Iron County: 3,988 (53.6 per day, falling)
  • Kane County: 378 (3 per day, falling)
  • Garfield County: 378 (2.1 per day, falling)
  • Beaver County: 482 (5.2 per day, falling)

New infections for major Southern Utah cities (numbers released ahead of Southern Utah numbers):

  • St. George: 68 (falling)
  • Washington City: 23 (rising)
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 14 (rising)
  • Ivins City/Santa Clara: 11 (rising)
  • Cedar City: 40 (falling)

Deaths: 191 (2.9 per day, falling)

  • Washington County: 155 (11 new since last report: Hospitalized female 65-84, hospitalized male 65-84, long-term care female over 85, hospitalized female 65-84, hospitalized male 65-84, female 45-64 at home, hospitalized male 65-84, long-term care male over 84, long-term care female 65-84, long-term care male 65-84, long-term care male 65-84)
  • Iron County: 20 (1 new: Long-term care female 65-84)
  • Garfield County: 9 (2 new: Long-term care female over 85, long-term care male 65-84)
  • Kane County: 3
  • Beaver County: 4 (1 new: Hospitalized female 65-84) 

Hospitalized: 50 (falling)

Active cases: 8,702 (rising)

Current Utah seven-day average: 1,829 (falling)

Vaccines shipped to  Southern Utah: 13,374

Number of initial vaccine injections in Southern Utah: 12,887

Number of fully vaccinated in Southern Utah: 487

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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