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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah leaders launched a new "vaccine distribution road map" to ensure all groups within the state have access to the COVID-19 vaccine as the state continues to expand parameters regarding who qualifies to receive it.
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson said the road map was created as state leaders sought to ensure there was an "inclusive vaccine strategy" that would cover groups who may otherwise be overlooked as vaccinations ramp up.
The plan unveiled by the state Thursday would make it easier for individuals in minority communities, people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness to have better access to the vaccine.
"Our goal is to make sure that vaccines are administered fairly and equitably, and that every Utahn who wants a vaccine can get one regardless of who they are or where they live," Henderson said. "The vaccine distribution road map directs vaccine providers throughout the state of Utah to identify and remove barriers to access so that we can recover together without leaving anybody behind."
This begins by identifying who might be left behind and creating a messaging campaign that all Utahns can understand. Virus transmission data from the first few months of the pandemic highlighted these issues because it showed minority communities were disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
In addition to addressing minority communities and tribal nations, the plan acknowledges already existing language barriers. Henderson said the road map also seeks to make it easier for Utahns to get the vaccine if they are homebound, if they don't have access to transportation, residents of rural communities, households who don't have access to computers to schedule a vaccine appointment, or people who can't get off work to get vaccinated.
The current plan is amendable to allow adjustments requested by underrepresented communities or vaccine providers to provide better vaccine access as well, she said.
"It is important that work plans include strategies focused on the specific needs of these groups," the road map document states. "Strategies should be data-driven, use community leaders and partners to make sure all Utahns get accurate vaccination information from trusted sources, and make sure everyone has equitable access to health services."
After it's established who may not have easy access to the vaccine, the next strategy is to create the appropriate messaging to inform underrepresented groups how they can get access to it.
The part may be more difficult, state officials said, because some underrepresented groups may be more hesitant about getting the vaccine. The document released Thursday stated survey data shows confidence in the vaccine was lower among African American and Hispanic populations.
"Our goal is to provide all Utahns with current, credible health information so they can make informed decisions for themselves and their families," the document added. "The state of Utah has many communication resources available to make sure accurate health information is reaching all Utahns, from sources they trust."
The next step would be to figure out strategies to get all Utahns vaccinated. That could be through mobile vaccination van routes or vaccination sites in communities, Henderson said. The vans could travel to senior centers, correctional facilities or specific neighborhoods where people could get their COVID-19 shot.
Clinics could also be set up for those who have disabilities. Henderson added that the state has spent close to $1 million on language translation efforts alone, which has helped the state translate its COVID-19 and vaccine information website into over 20 languages.
Some of this has already been done. For instance, Henderson said the Tri-County Health Department in northeastern Utah began working with faith-based leaders to allow for information to be distributed across many languages. The state also began working with Spanish-speaking media to conduct virtual town hall meetings about the vaccine.
"It really does take a whole community to reach out to the whole community," she said. "We're grateful for those who have given input on this road map and who continue to provide feedback and help us to know where the needs are so we can best reach those locations."
The timeline is to get as many vaccinations completed by the end of 2021 as possible, according to the document. It was released the same day that Gov. Spencer Cox said he believed eligibility for the vaccine could open up to all Utah adults by April.
The best vaccine for you is the one that you can get first, regardless of the manufacturer.
–Dr. Angela Dunn, Utah Department of Health epidemiologist
The road map also defined success as having vaccination rates throughout the state that reflect "proportionate numbers of all Utahns are vaccinated."
"This means similar percentages of all populations have been vaccinated, including in populations who may be at higher-risk of severe illness because of social, economic or geographic factors," it adds.
Meanwhile, the state continues to expand vaccine distribution partnerships. It announced a partnership with three health care providers that began administering COVID-19 vaccines to patients this week.
The number of vaccine options also increased this week with the addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that was approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration.
In a press briefing Thursday, Dr. Angela Dunn, the state's epidemiologist, addressed questions Utahns have asked regarding which vaccine they should receive. She pleaded for all Utahns to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, regardless of the drug manufacturer.
"The best vaccine for you is the one that you can get first, regardless of the manufacturer," she said. "It's so exciting that we have three effective and safe vaccines against COVID-19 right now. … The fact that we have three means we can end this pandemic sooner, and it's going to take everybody getting the vaccine when it's available to them."