The Summit County Health Department has begun to receive doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and is stepping up its campaign to inoculate residents even as it prepares to confront shortfalls of supply and reluctance by some to receive the shots.
Health Director Rich Bullough said Tuesday the county was nearly finished inoculating those who would administer the vaccine to others, and was working toward vaccinating health care providers like private practice physicians not associated with a hospital group.
The county is working through that first group and expects to move on to first responders and teachers next, followed by residents who are 75 and older.
Bullough told the Board of Health Monday that the county’s emergency operations center was enacting vaccine distribution plans, including establishing a vaccine clinic that was set to start inoculating individuals in high priority groups Tuesday.
The limiting factor, Bullough said, was the vaccine supply.
“Reason (teachers have) not been vaccinated has nothing to do with us — it has to do with the fact that we haven’t received the vaccine,” Bullough said.
He had originally estimated teachers would be offered the vaccine in mid-February, but told the board that might happen sooner. He added that state officials had been communicating unachievable and unrealistic dates for vaccine delivery.
Summit County Nursing Director Derek Moss said Monday that the county had received about 700 doses of the vaccine, administered about 100 of them and expected to inoculate about 300 more people this week.
Those totals don’t include the vaccines distributed directly to health care providers, like the Park City Hospital, or administered in Summit County by third-party businesses.
The numbers are less than half the amounts claimed on the state website, which Bullough said was inaccurate and possibly includes doses shipped to health care facilities in the county.
Bullough said he was surprised to see how many people in the initial priority groups have declined invitations to be vaccinated.
He said there might be a belief among those in groups high on the list to be inoculated, like first responders, that they can decline this invitation and then seek a vaccination any time they wish. But Bullough said once they pass up the opportunity, the next chance will be when the general population is able to be vaccinated, hopefully sometime this summer.
“We are setting timelines specific to priority groups. When that timeline — when we move on to the next priority group, the individual in that priority group will have the opportunity to get vaccinated with the general population, which may not be until much later in this process,” Bullough said. “Those individuals who are at risk in those priority populations, it would be wise to be vaccinated, otherwise you might be delayed several months in getting the vaccine.”
State officials distribute the vaccine to local health departments based on census data, and Moss said that counties have been told not to turn anyone away who falls into the appropriate priority group, which would mean, for instance, vaccinating a Parley’s Park Elementary School teacher who lives in Wasatch County.
Bullough said that could lead to a chronic vaccine shortage here. About 16,000 workers commute to Summit County each day, county officials have said.
Moss indicated that vaccinating all comers would help the county in the long run by protecting people who interact with local residents on a daily basis.
The federal government has contracted with CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens to distribute the vaccine to long-term care facilities, and Bullough said CVS has already set a date for a vaccine clinic at one such facility in Summit County.
But Bullough said officials at a facility on the East Side of the county had heard nothing from the national drug store chains and that the county was taking over the responsibility there, planning to use about 60 of its vaccine doses to protect the facility’s employees and residents.
“My philosophy is we’ve got a population that’s heavily impacted by this disease. Why would we sit by and wait?” Bullough said. He added that the facility had been hit by COVID already and that the county intended to set up a vaccination clinic there on Wednesday.
In an interview Tuesday morning, Bullough spoke from Utah Film Studios in Park City, the site of the county’s first mass vaccination site, where about 120 people were scheduled to receive the shot that day, a group including dentists, pharmacists and physical therapists who had been invited to participate.
Traffic on S.R. 248 crawled past the vaccination site in bumper-to-bumper traffic, Bullough said, shuttling skiers to the Park City-area resorts. Visitors can be a boon to the struggling economy, but also can increase the chance of worsening the local COVID situation, as Bullough said cases tend to increase when people travel and congregate.
“Our cases are not where we want them to be, our positivity rate is not where we want it to be, but we actually are exactly where we expected to be,” Bullough told the Board of Health.
Cases locally and statewide spiked on Dec. 30, he said, a surge likely tied to families gathering for Christmas. He said he expected another spike tied to New Year’s, though it may present as one elongated elevation in case numbers. He said that the case numbers will likely decline about two weeks later.
An Intermountain Healthcare infectious disease specialist said Monday the increase in hospitalizations and deaths statewide from the holiday season would likely not start to be reflected in the data until mid-January.
About 30% of tests are coming back positive for COVID-19, the official said, ninth worst in the nation. That indicates the disease is prevalent and that not enough people are being tested, he said.
Bullough said the county was anticipating using the vaccination site at Utah Film Studios until the supply of vaccine outpaces the number of people that can be vaccinated there, which Bullough estimated would happen sometime in February.
The site can likely be used to vaccinate about 150 people per day, Bullough said, and the county plans a large-scale operation at Richardson Flat that would be able to accommodate around 1,000 people per day.
He is hopeful the county will start receiving many more doses of the vaccine in March.