SALT LAKE CITY — The first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer will begin arriving at Utah hospitals on Monday with a second shipment arriving on Tuesday, according to the Utah Department of Health. The first phase will go to health care workers, then high risk people, and eventually the general population.
The announcement was made after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the nation's first COVID-19 vaccine Friday night.
Soon, special freezers at Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health will be full of hope.
Health officials said the COVID-19 vaccine will be stored in those special freezers.
"It's definitely very exciting," said Dr. Kavish Choudhary, who oversees the University of Utah Health's pharmacy rollout plan for the vaccine.
Dr. Choudhary said the special freezers will keep the vaccine at -70 degrees Celsius, adding that the cold temperature is necessary.
"The vaccine itself is pretty unstable, meaning that if we were to take it out, it could potentially start thawing right away which will shorten its shelf life," he said.
"It also requires special handling, which our pharmacists and nursing staff are all being trained to handle," said Dr. Kristin Dascomb, medical director of Infection Prevention Employee Health for Intermountain Healthcare.
The first batch of COVID-19 vaccines are coming to Utah. We're doing a story on the rollout plan for @KSL5TV at 5. Here's a quick write up on the vaccine getting approval late last night. https://t.co/wmW1QYEaV0#ksltv— Alex Cabrero (@KSL_AlexCabrero) December 12, 2020
The Pfizer vaccine will first go to health care workers, especially those dealing directly with sick patients.
However, even that first phase of vaccinating medical workers will take some time to get done.
"For us at the University of Utah, to get our staff done, we're looking into February," said Dr. Choudhary. "And that's even before we can get to our patients, so we've got a long haul."
It'll be a while after health care workers, high-risk people, and Utah teachers receive the vaccine before the general population starts getting it.
"I would guess, with the CDC information, that optimistically maybe by this summer we'll be in a place to vaccinate the mass population, but that's still seven months away," said Dr. Choudhary. "We have a solution, but that solution is going to take time to get implemented."
That's why medical workers said it's still important to take all the precautions like wearing a mask, social distancing, sanitizing, and staying home if you're sick.
"The more and more we can prevent spread, the better all of these tools will help us," said Dr. Tamara Sheffield with Intermountain Healthcare.
Even though health care workers will be able to get the vaccine first, medical providers are not making it mandatory for them to get it.
Workers can make their own decisions, and providers said their jobs will not be affected by their choice.
Getting the vaccine requires getting two shots of it, three weeks apart.