Vaccine Rollout Rollercoaster: How Will The State Fix Future Problems?

Feb 18, 2021, 10:58 PM | Updated: 11:26 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Getting the COVID-19 vaccine has been a struggle for many Utahns and so far, the rollout hasn’t gone as smoothly as hoped. What plans are underway to improve that? The KSL Investigators sat down with Gov. Spencer Cox to get some answers.

“The truth is we’re working to solve it, but we’ll probably never solve it completely,” said Cox. “At least for a long time.”

You could say the vaccine rollout in Utah got off to a very rocky start.

Gov. Spencer Cox talks about Utah’s vaccine rollout. (KSL-TV)

“Well the first thing I found out was that they wouldn’t answer a phone call,” said Washington County resident Gary Zabriskie. “And the next thing I found out was they wouldn’t pay any attention to their website.”

Websites crashing, no appointments available, long lines and seniors waiting in the cold. While there’s been a shortage of vaccines, there’s been no shortage of problems.

“I was looking forward to it to be smooth because I thought, Utah – they do things better than other states,” said Roberta Lovell, a Salt Lake County resident.

Even Cox admitted that when he first took office, Utah was falling way behind.

“I had been very frustrated by what I was seeing, and I sat down with the lieutenant governor and I said, ‘We’ve got to make some big changes. Utah is not going to be 39th in the country for delivering vaccines,’” said Cox.

So, what did he do about it? Cox said he threw money at the problem and offered local health departments anything they needed to help with staffing, technology and funding.

Utahns Age 65+ Now Eligible For COVID-19 Vaccines

“I don’t care about the budget. I don’t care about the legislative session. I care about saving lives, keeping our hospitals open and driving down this awful disease that we’ve seen,” said Cox.

His plan didn’t work perfectly. Local municipalities still had hiccups and there were multiple days where seniors waited in lines for hours.

However, in a matter of weeks, Utah jumped from 39th to fourth in the nation for vaccine distribution, falling only behind New Mexico, North Dakota and West Virginia. This week, Montana also jumped ahead, pushing Utah to fifth place.

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt understands the frustrations from both sides.

Mike Leavitt, former Secretary of Health & Human Services in the George W. Bush administration, discusses the vaccine rollout. (KSL-TV)

“I was one of those trying to get on the website the instant that it was available so that I could get an appointment,” said Leavitt.

As the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary in George W. Bush’s administration, Leavitt prepared for national events like an anthrax attack or a bird flu pandemic. But he said COVID-19 is a whole new beast.

“If we could start all over again and do the last two months again would we be better at it? Absolutely. But we haven’t done this for 50 years. No one who’s been involved in it has actually done it. And we’re dealing with a different situation than we ever have before,” said Leavitt.

In less than two weeks, Utah is expecting a major influx of vaccines: a jump from 83,000 doses per week to at least 197,000. That’s more than double the current rate, and the fear is scaling up could bring a repeat of what we saw in January — or worse.

“Do you feel like the infrastructure that’s in place is going to be able to handle all these new vaccines?” KSL Investigator Mike Headrick asked Cox.

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks with KSL’s Mike Headrick about the state’s vaccine rollout. (KSL-TV)

“The infrastructure that’s in place now will not be able to handle all the new vaccines, potentially as soon as three weeks from now,” the governor replied.

To relieve the pressure, Cox said the state is working on a plan that moves beyond local health departments. The vaccine is already being distributed at Smith’s and Walmart, but the governor said there are 12 partners total, and one might be right in your neighborhood.

“We’re going to have some very high throughput sites that are doing thousands of these a day. Some of them will be parking lots where people can get into their car. Some of them will be stadiums and some of them will be movie theaters. Some of them will be testing sites that will be converted into vaccination sites,” said Cox.

He also said local pharmacies and mobile clinics are part of the plan to reach people who are homebound.

All those plans will require a lot of volunteers. To pull the whole thing off, the state said it needs at least a thousand volunteers to help with traffic, data entry, security and administering the vaccines. So far, 4,500 have signed up.

“This is going to move very quickly, a lot faster than people anticipated,” said Cox.

So when is it your turn? The governor announced Thursday that Utahns age 65 and older are eligible now. He said there are more than 400,000 residents in that category, but we could get through them in no time.

“You can burn through that population in a couple weeks and then you’re on to 60 and then you’re on to 55 and again, best-case scenario, if the numbers hold, we believe that every adult in the state of Utah could have an opportunity to receive a vaccine by the end of May,” he said.

That’s ahead of the national schedule announced this week by the Biden administration, which pointed to the end of July.

During his monthly news conference Thursday morning, Cox said his experience so far with the Biden White House is that they tend to “underpromise and overdeliver. That’s not a bad thing.”

Cox said the state will revise its timeline if necessary, but added, “from all the information we’re receiving, we’re very confident of that May timeline.”

It will be a huge undertaking and Cox admitted it won’t be without more bumps and confusion. But while the system will likely never be perfect, he hopes people will be patient with the chaos.

“What I hope people know is that we’re doing things for the right reasons even when we get it wrong and that our motives are pure,” he said.

Utahns 65 and older who wish to sign up for a shot can go to the state’s COVID-19 website,, for information.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Coronavirus Utah

FILE PHOTO (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)...
Josh Ellis

Utah doctor, others charged with running COVID vaccine scheme, issuing fake records and giving fake shots

A Utah plastic surgeon, his medical corporation and three others have been charged after prosecutors say they issued fake COVID-19 vaccination record cards and injected minors with saline shots.
13 days ago
FILE: People line up in their cars as members of the Utah National Guard give COVID-19 swab tests a...
Eliza Pace

Gov. Cox, along with 24 other governors, call on President Biden to end Federal Public Health Emergency

Gov. Spencer Cox signed a letter with 24 other governors calling on President Joe Biden to end the federal public health emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic.
1 month ago
flu shot tripledemic...
Matt Rascon

KSL+: The rise of respiratory viruses and COVID’s impact

It’s not even winter yet, and the CDC is warning that the country is experiencing a resurgence of respiratory viruses, which are taking a toll on hospitals and children.
2 months ago
FILE: Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 (left) and Moderna COVID-19 (right) vaccines are seen at a vaccinati...
Lauran Neergaard, AP Medical Writer

US clears updated COVID boosters for kids as young as 5

The U.S. on Wednesday authorized updated COVID-19 boosters for children as young as 5, seeking to expand protection ahead of an expected winter wave.
4 months ago
Alex Cabrero and Mike Anderson, KSL TV

Sandy woman shares frustration of ongoing battle with COVID-19

As life starts to return to normal from the pandemic, for millions of Americans, it still causes a daily struggle. That's the case for one Sandy woman, who shared her story Tuesday.
4 months ago
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 09: A pharmacist prepares to administer  COVID-19 vaccine booster sho...
Jed Boal

University Health recommends getting omicron booster and flu shot now

The CDC approved the COVID-19 bivalent boosters that target the most recent omicron variants on September 1. Since then, tens of thousands of Utahns have rolled up their sleeves.
4 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t Let a Ransomware Attack Get You Down | Protect Your Workplace Today with Cyber Insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Vaccine Rollout Rollercoaster: How Will The State Fix Future Problems?