As COVID-19 vaccinations orchestrated by health departments roll out throughout the state, there is greater interest in inoculation than there is supply in the Bear River Health District.
“Right now we’re projected this week to be in the negative, meaning we will run out of giving the extra doses out of vials,” said Jordan Mathis, BRHD’s newly sworn-in director, in a media Q&A on Wednesday.
The number of doses in a vial has been lowballed, making it possible to stretch how many people can receive the first round of shots with more efficient and careful administration.
This will result in roughly 175 extra doses that the Bear River Health Department is projected to go through by the end of the week, according to Mathis.
But that’s a good thing, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said at the media event.
“It’s a good problem to have if they get through their doses in the first few days,” she said. “We want them to have that problem, because then we can try to get more doses for them. So what we don’t want to have happen is for them just to be sitting around on shelves and not utilized.”
With BRHD’s extra doses from vials and missed appointments combined with an excess from Logan Regional Hospital, the health department was able to start offering clinics for those 70 years of age and older.
The fast-changing priority marks a move to Phase 2 of Utah’s vaccination priority list, which favored health care and emergency service workers as well as teachers and staff who only started to receive their vaccinations on Monday.
Though the lines between the priority groups are being blurred — both in the area and throughout the state — “the goal is to save lives,” Henderson added.
“And so we want to make sure that the people who are in high-risk categories (get priority), and right now, we’ve targeted that at those that are over the age of 70,” she said. “… It doesn’t make a lot of sense to do a healthier population when there’s still some critical needs there to vaccinate those that are older.”
Unlike earlier in the pandemic when local health departments were waiting on guidance from the state, BRHD Spokesperson Josh Greer said “we’re just waiting on doses.”
“We’ve been given a lot of direction, and so we’ve got a lot of priority groups now, if you will, that we need to get the vaccine to,” he told The Herald Journal on Monday. “And so we’re really just trying to schedule the clinics, get information out there and get prepped for those so we can start directing people to those registrations.”
Mathis, like other officials, said the vaccine is another tool to fight the pandemic. Though some have raised concerns on the use of a new technology in the vaccine — messenger RNA that teaches the body to make antibodies rather than introducing weakened or dead strains of the virus — the method has been studied for at least 10 years, though this is the first widespread use.
“It’s not new,” Mathis said. “It’s just this actually provided the best opportunity for them to utilize this. And so there’s an opportunity for us to look at this new technology with regards to vaccines and utilize it on the world.”
Although he encourages people to do their research, he added that “this is a very safe and effective vaccine.”
Henderson said though the vaccine was fast-tracked, there was no elimination of safety protocols.
“Everything was done just as it always has been for vaccines to make sure that they’re safe and effective,” she added. “The only thing that was eliminated at the federal level was some waiting periods. The bureaucracy was eliminated, not safety steps.”
In addition to helping catch up from the delay in getting the vaccine to teachers and other high-priority groups, Greer said extra vaccinations are a welcome tool in the pandemic, especially with public concerns of a post-holiday surge like was seen around Halloween and Thanksgiving.
“People are worried; they’re stressed out,” he told The Herald Journal on Monday. “Hopefully the opportunity to be vaccinated is going to help relieve some of that stress.”
An estimated 124,884 Utahns have received the first dose of the vaccination, according to the Utah Department of Health’s Coronavirus dashboard.
Only 39 new cases were reported in the Bear River Health District on Wednesday, though case positivity is still high, with a 7-day average of 35% meaning that it’s likely that a high number of cases are spreading untracked through the community.
There have been 314,817 total cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Utah. The Bear River Health District has contributed at least 16,402, with more than 12,000 from Cache County alone. The virus has killed 1,449 Utahns — 49 of them from the Bear River area.