Why the state expanded vaccination criteria to include those with underlying medical conditions

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SALT LAKE CITY — While all adults will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in just a few weeks, experts say there is a reason those with underlying health conditions are given priority. One Utah kidney transplant shares why he is so grateful he was able to get the shot.

Greg Boss of Holladay is considered high risk. He's been married to his sweetheart for 25 years. Just after they returned from their honeymoon, Boss started to feel ill.

He says his life changed in 2001 when he underwent a kidney transplant at just 34 years old.

"April 12. I can remember the day. It snowed," he said. "My wife's little brother donated one of his kidneys to me and we celebrate 20 years, next month."

Kidney disease runs in his family. "We're still fighting that fight and trying to make it last as long as possible," Boss said.

Boss is a father to three children and has largely enjoyed good health until December of 2019 when he ended up in the hospital again for six weeks after having heart surgery. "I had a quadruple bypass and the valve repaired," he said.

He felt grateful just to be alive. "(I) got out of the hospital and went kind of right into the pandemic," he said.

The whole Boss family has taken great precautions to protect him from getting COVID-19.

"They don't want to be the ones that bring something home to dad and so that's why they've had to sacrifice quite a bit to keep me safe," Boss said. "It was a challenge and we had to come together as a family and as a community to really help each other out."

Boss says he was so excited to get the vaccine, qualifying with his underlying medical conditions. He said it was a surreal moment. "Now all of a sudden, we have a vaccine a year later and I have that much more of a fighting chance against it," he said.

On the day of the Utah earthquake last year, Greg Boss' wife decided their family would get a dog. Wally is a Sheepadoodle who has brought the family a lot of joy and company this year and has also helped Greg Boss recover from his surgery in 2019.
On the day of the Utah earthquake last year, Greg Boss' wife decided their family would get a dog. Wally is a Sheepadoodle who has brought the family a lot of joy and company this year and has also helped Greg Boss recover from his surgery in 2019. (Photo: KSL TV)

Intermountain Healthcare's Dr. Tamara Sheffield, medical director of community health and prevention, said the state has given priority to people like Boss for a reason. "But then there are other health care conditions that put individuals at a high risk for death, and so that's why we've moved through those that are highest risk and then keep progressing down to others," she explained.

Sheffield says the state is following research and recommendations provided by the CDC. "As we get more supply in, the easier it is for us to match those recommendations," she said, which now includes those with diabetes, kidney disease, and a BMI of 30 or higher.

As the vaccine soon becomes more widely available, she urges all Utahns to get the shot.

"We need these vaccines to protect ourselves, but when you protect yourself, you protect other people as well," Sheffield said. "I will tell you that even people who are healthy and strong have had some serious complications. So it is important for you personally, but it's also for that individual in your neighborhood, or your friend or your friend's mother who may be at risk."

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Sheffield says the COVID-19 vaccine is a sign of hope for changes in the community. She adds the greatest gift of vaccination is peace of mind. "You don't have to worry so much about eliciting yourself or spreading illness to those that you love," she said.

Boss feels blessed to be healthy for his wife and three kids. "I can't live life in fear, right? I just got to do the best I can every day and try to make a difference in somebody else's life," he said. "There's a reason I'm here and I'm doing everything I can to make the best of it," he said.

While research is still underway, Sheffield said experts anticipate about 70% to 90% of Utahns will need to be vaccinated in order to slow down transmission of COVID-19.

Sheffield encourages those who have struggled to get a vaccination appointment to be patient. "Don't worry, we are going to be getting much more vaccine week after week and you will easily, within a fairly short period of time, be able to have access. Just be patient and persistent," she said.

Intermountain Healthcare is a leading partner with the state in vaccine distribution. To sign up for an appointment, Utahns can also visit coronavirus.utah.gov.


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