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Utah Health Officials Plan For First COVID-19 Vaccinations

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Officials with the Utah Department of Health placed their first order for COVID-19 vaccines Thursday, and Utah’s two largest hospital systems said they are ready to vaccinate their workers as soon as the vaccine is federally approved.

There is no specific date for approval but, it could happen in about two weeks, which is about the same time the state expects the vaccine to arrive.

Physicians from Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health said they are ready to vaccinate their frontline workers as soon as Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine gets emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At that time, they will vaccinate 500 to 750 workers a day, depending on vaccine availability.

“We’re not quite sure when we’re going to get the vaccine. But we are going to be prepared and ready for that,” said Dr. Jeanmarie Mayer, chief of infection prevention with University of Utah Health.

The FDA is already scrutinizing vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which the companies deemed 95% effective.

Initially, Utah doctors expect to get a few thousand doses of the Pfizer vaccine to be distributed from the five main hospitals with ultracold refrigeration.

“We are really targeting those health care personnel that have been on the front lines taking care of our COVID patients since March,” said Mayer.

That list includes doctors, nurses, technicians and housekeepers, who have been among the hardest hit during the pandemic, she said.

“Both of these vaccines are as safe as most vaccines we have out there,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious disease for University of Utah Health.

While speed in developing a vaccine has been emphasized, Pavia said safety has not been compromised. He believes Utahns can have faith in the process because the FDA has been transparent and plans to put vaccine trial data online for the public and other professionals to see.

Pavia said the vaccines can cause mild side effects like headaches, muscle aches and fevers.

“But there have been no serious safety signals, and the vaccines so far have been studied in people between 18 and 80,” said Pavia.

He said we may not know about rare side effects for months. Neither hospital system will require their staff to take the vaccine, but they will share the trial data with their workers when it is available, so they can make an informed decision.

“As vaccine production increases, there should be more available, and we will be ramping up our ability to administer the vaccine rapidly,” said Dr. Kristin Dascomb, medical director of infection prevention and employee health with Intermountain Healthcare.

They expect some health care workers will have adverse reactions, so they need to be strategic with staffing.

“To ensure that if they do have some mild symptoms, they can feel comfortable being off of work as best we can,” said Dascomb.

High-risk individuals may get their vaccine in February or March. Most of the general public can expect to line up in late spring or early summer.

“Vaccines are our best tool. But they’re not our only tool,” said Dr. Tamara Sheffield, medical director of community health and prevention with Intermountain Healthcare. “We need to use all of the tools in the toolbox in order to prevent that spread from us to vulnerable individuals.“

“So we need to continue to wear masks, social distance and wash our hands frequently. Vaccines work best when fewer people are ill,” Sheffield said.

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