KSL Investigates Vaccines By The Numbers: When Will Enough Utahns Be Protected?
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — As of Jan. 20, one-half of one percent of Utah residents have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. At this rate, KSL Investigators found it will take several months for enough Utahns to be protected from the virus to make a difference.
Gov. Spencer Cox sat down with us to discuss hurdles slowing down the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which began in December with front-line health care workers.
Current State Of Utah’s Vaccination Efforts
“Our biggest problem right now isn’t the rate of vaccinations,” Cox said, “It’s the amount of vaccine we’re getting from the federal government.”
Cox told us Utah is getting about 30,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines weekly. In a press conference Thursday, he said Utah’s health departments have used 94% of the vaccine stock that is more than seven days old.
As a new federal administration hits the gas pedal on pandemic control, Cox is optimistic that Utah will start seeing double the amount of available vaccines. “We know that vaccine production is going to ramp up,” he said.
The Biden Administration invoked the Defense Production Act on Thursday to help reach the goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans in 100 days.
As of Jan. 20, Utah has seen 156,882 people get their first round of the COVID vaccine. According to 2019 U.S. Census numbers, that is roughly 7% of all Utahns age 18 and older. No FDA-approved vaccine on the market is currently available for children.
Only 9% of all who have received vaccines have gotten both doses. However, shots for citizens aged 70 and older just started in recent days.
Currently, the seven-day average for vaccination stands at 8,041 people per day. KSL Investigators estimate that by subtracting those who have already received the vaccination, herd immunity would be achieved in August 2021.
The Utah Department of Health told us “70% [vaccination of Utah’s population] is widely viewed as being a level that would achieve herd immunity,” but they would “love to get to 80%.”
Seventy percent of Utah’s 18 and older population would mean just under 1.6 million Utahns would need to get the COVID-19 vaccine to drastically reduce the spread.
What’s Next For Vaccinations
Several factors could speed up vaccinating Utahns, including two more vaccines targeted to come to market in February or March.
“Right now, we just have Moderna and Pfizer,” said Cox. “They’re producing as much as they can, but they’re working to ramp up production capacity. It’s not just for the United States, this is a worldwide issue so they’re delivering across the world.”
In a statement, a Pfizer spokesperson told KSL-TV:
“As of last Friday, Jan. 15, we shipped more than 15 million doses of our COVID-19 vaccine to destinations across the U.S. We continue to dispatch orders of our COVID-19 vaccine to locations specified by the U.S. government, and we are working around the clock to produce millions more doses each day. We have and are continuing to work closely with Operation Warp Speed (OWS) on our production, release and shipping schedules – to ensure Americans receive their first and second doses of the vaccine on time. We have provided OWS with a specific schedule and we foresee no issues in delivering on the commitments we have made.
“Our facility in Kalamazoo, MI, is the primary manufacturing site of our COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. We anticipate no interruptions in shipments at this facility, as we look to scale up our production of the vaccine to produce 2 billion doses worldwide by the end of 2021 (up from the previously communicated ~1.3 billion).
“We remain committed to partnering with the U.S. government to deliver our vaccine to the American people.”
Moderna told us:
“We haven’t been sharing weekly or monthly production estimates, but we have stated that we continue to be on track with our expectations of delivering 100 million doses of vaccine by the end of Q1, and 200 million doses by the end of Q2. Production and releases are not linear, and we have explained that we have been successfully scaling up our production yields over time.”
As more doses become available in Utah, Cox said the estimated date for reaching herd immunity is sooner than current numbers foretell.
“We believe we will have herd immunity by early summer, if not earlier,” he said. “We’re hoping to get 100,000 doses a week, and then those numbers expand almost exponentially.”
Taking Possession Of Unused Vaccines
Cox said there are multiple partners of the federal government who received vaccines specifically for vaccinating long term care facility residents and staff. In a press conference Thursday, he told reporters that these partners have used only 17% of vaccines that are more than seven days old.
“What we’re trying to do now is get some of that vaccine back so that we can give it to our local health departments,” said Cox, “because they’re most of our local health departments are running through their allotment of vaccine by Wednesday of the week,” Cox said.
Cox added he hoped to have possession of those unused vaccines by the end of this week to help ease the demand for the current vaccination group of age 70 and older.
“A vaccine in an arm is better than having it on a shelf,” he said.
Next Possible Vaccination Group
The governor told KSL the next group that will receive COVID-19 vaccines will likely be those aged 65 to 70 years old, and those with multiple comorbidities. Defining those co-morbidities for eligibility is yet to be determined.
“We’re trying to use the science to figure out who is most at risk and protect those first, and then work our way down that list,” he said.
Cox explained that defining those comorbidities will be vital because opening up vaccination to anyone with any of the known comorbidities of COVID-19 would mean an influx of roughly 700,000 people seeking vaccines.
At this point, it is unknown how long the COVID vaccine antibodies last in the body, though manufacturers are closely studying this through those who underwent the initial clinical trials for the drugs.
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