Governor apologizes for lack of COVID-19 vaccine availability; accessibility boost coming soon

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

ST. GEORGE — While the governor on Thursday apologized for the difficulty those 70 and over have had trying to attain reservation slots for COVID-19 vaccinations, he also revealed a further expansion of vaccine supply in the state to include the opportunity to get shots at Walmart and Smith’s Marketplace locations.

File photo by Arindam Ghosh/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

The reservation slots have seemingly filled up just as soon as they are released on Monday mornings. The same was the case this week, despite more than double the slots available compared to the previous week. At the same time, the state’s epidemiologist warned Thursday that while the coronavirus is on a sharp decline statewide, Southern Utah is lagging behind the rest of the state. 

During his weekly COVID-19 press conference Thursday, when he announced a large expansion in vaccine supply and availability in the next few weeks, Gov. Spencer Cox responded directly to a question posed by St. George News on what he would say to those who have been unable to secure a reservation slot for the vaccine, which became available to all Utahns 70 years old and older three weeks ago.

Cox said any other theories as to why vaccine slots are going so quickly – including slots being reserved for others before they are made public – are false and the actual problem is much simpler: There has just been less supply of vaccine than the demand for them.

“To those who have been diligently waiting, please accept my apologies. You will get yours soon,” Cox said. “While it is frustrating, the reason it’s frustrating is people are running out of vaccine each week. That’s why it is frustrating. I can assure them that over the next three weeks, more and more slots will open up, and they will be able to get theirs.”

This past week saw a 16% increase in the supply the federal government was supplying to the state – from 30,000 to around 40,000 doses – and that is expected to increase to 50,000 by the end of next week. 

Cox estimated that by the end of the month, as many as 190,000 doses per week will be available.

Because of that, Cox announced that eligibility to the vaccine will expand to those 65 and older on March 1. In addition, those with the following high-risk conditions will also be eligible to receive the vaccine as long as they are ages 18 or over:

  • Solid organ transplant recipients
  • Having had certain cancers
  • Immunocompromised state including HIV
  • Severe kidney disease
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Obese with a body mass index greater than 40
  • Hepatitis sufferer
  • Chronic heart disease, but not high blood pressure
  • Lung disease besides asthma
  • Downs syndrome or cerebral palsy
  • Those who have had strokes or dementia
  • Those with sickle-cell anemia

Those who have already been eligible for vaccinations – including those 70 or over – will still be eligible after March 1, meaning a person in the eligible groups will not be out of luck if they can’t get vaccinated by the end of the month.

Gov. Spencer Cox gives his first State of the State address before the Utah Legislature, Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan. 21, 2021 | Pool photo, St. George News

Cox said he anticipates the rollout of more vaccine slots to be chaotic, but the alternative would be fewer people getting vaccinated and vaccine supplies sitting on shelves. 

“There will be scheduling issues. There will be different platforms. There’s going to be a little bit of chaos to make this happen. We’re going to embrace that chaos and get shots in arms,” Cox said. “I can’t over emphasize how difficult getting 150,000 shots in arms per week will be. We are going to do something incredible here, but it isn’t going to be easy so we just ask you to be patient.”

The Southwest Utah Public Health Department has said in the past that it has the staff to take on a larger numbers of people needing to be vaccinated and has only been limited by the amount of vaccine supply. There are already plans to quickly implement a large drive-up vaccine clinic at the fairgrounds at Washington County Legacy Park similar to that seen at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles that already had a dry run at the Flu Vaccine Shootout in September. 

Another place to get the vaccine in the next few weeks will be the local Walmart and Smith’s Marketplaces as part of another federal vaccine program announced this week. 

Cox said there will be 29 Smith’s locations and 18 Walmarts that will have vaccine appointments by the end of next week. It’s not clear at this time if, or which, locations in Southern Utah will be included. 

Eligibility for the vaccine at Smith’s and Walmart locations will be the same as that at the local health district at this point: Those 70 and over, first responders, K-12 school teachers and staff and medical workers. 

Pandemic on the decline, but Southern Utah still lagging behind

One immediate effect of more people getting the vaccine has been the sharp reduction in new infections, hospitalizations and deaths from the virus over the last two weeks.

State epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn speaks during a press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Jan. 14, 2021 | Screenshot from Gov. Spencer Cox Facebook page, St. George News

Locally, new infections have been in the 100-150 range per day, rather than above 200. Hospitalizations that had been as high as 70 two weeks ago are down to 37, and the average number of deaths is back in the range of one per day, instead of the average of four per day locally like it was two weeks ago.

Of note, there have been fewer hospitalizations and deaths among those in long-term care centers and those over 70 years of age. Long-term care centers have now seen their patients and staffs complete their second round of vaccination shots and the first shots continue for those ages 70 and over. 

Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, cautioned that it will ultimately take 70% of Utahns vaccinated and a daily case rate in the single-digits, rather than the dozens, before the pandemic can be considered conquered. At this point, not even 10% of the people in the state have been fully vaccinated.

“We still have work ahead for us,” Dunn said. “Things are looking really good as long  as we continue to wear masks, avoid mass gatherings.”

Dunn also pointed out Southwest Utah in particular as an area that is behind the rest of the state in getting the pandemic under control. It’s not that the virus hasn’t been on the decline here, Dunn said it’s just the rate of that drop in the southwest part of the state isn’t dropping like it is in the rest of Utah. 

“Southwest Utah is tending to have higher cases than the rest of Utah so we’re putting more efforts there,” Dunn said of Southern Utah. “We don’t have specific data why they’re lacking. There’s just community spread. They’re still on the decline, just a higher case rate.”

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.


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

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