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State health officials submit plans for COVID-19 vaccine rollout

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Health has submitted their plans for a statewide COVID-19 vaccine campaign to the CDC.

The submission deadline was Friday, Oct. 16.

The immunization director for the Utah Department of Health said our state will be ready to distribute when a vaccine is ready.

"This is going to be the largest vaccination campaign that we have ever done, " said Rich Lakin, state immunization director. "We're trying to do it in an efficient manner, yet trying to do it as quickly as possible, which makes it difficult."

The Utah COVID-19 Vaccination Plan is a 46-page document that details how Utahns will get immunized when a vaccine is approved.

Lakin said availability of the vaccine will dictate the pace of the rollout.

The CDC told states to get ready to vaccinate by Nov. 1, and Utah will be ready.

The greatest complication, Lakin said, is not knowing anything about the vaccine itself because none has been approved.

"We're doing everything that we need to plan, yet we only have a little bit of information about the vaccine itself," he said.

Lakin was told by his CDC colleagues Thursday that the first doses could arrive anytime between mid-November and January.

Initially, doses will be limited. A group of physicians, pharmacists, and other healthcare workers have been working over the last month to come up with a plan for prioritizing the vaccine.

The four major hospitals on the Wasatch Front with the greatest number of healthcare workers and COVID-19 patients will get the vaccine first to vaccinate healthcare workers, and other priority groups. Those hospitals are the University of Utah Hospital and LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, and Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo.

"The key thing that people need to remember is that the vaccine is going to drive the response," Lakin said. "If we have limited vaccine, we have limited vaccine in who we can give that response to. If we start to get a moderate amount of vaccine, we can broaden that vaccine distribution."

His best guess for when that broader distribution might happen?

"Probably around summertime when the public can start receiving the vaccine," the immunization director said.

Where will Utahns get it?

"The public will have an option to either go to a private physician if they have the vaccine, or they can go to the pharmacy," said Lakin. "They can also go to their local health department."

The state has been working closely with the 13 public health districts within Utah to come up with their plans.

Lakin said everybody involved in the distribution of a vaccine will have to be strategic and patient to ensure that limited supplies are not wasted.

"We're confident that this will go as smoothly as possible, but I think we all need to understand there will be bumps in the road," he said.

For those who think the vaccine has been rushed or that it cannot be trusted, the immunization director said the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the CDC will have to approve the vaccine before it goes out.

"That's the gold standard," said Lakin. "That meets the standard that the vaccine is safe, and it is time to put the vaccine out."

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Jed Boal


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