SALT LAKE CITY — Though it's not expected to disrupt Utah's COVID-19 vaccine rollout much, Gov. Spencer Cox said he doesn't agree with the decision earlier this week from federal regulators to pause administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over blood clotting issues.
Six cases of blood clotting were reported in women who had received the vaccine out of a total of more than 6.8 million people in the United States who got the Johnson & Johnson product, federal regulators announced Tuesday. No cases have been reported in Utah, Cox said Thursday during a news conference.
Cox said he understands the reason that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration decided to pause the vaccine. But compared to the risk of contracting, being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19, the risk of getting a blood clot from the vaccine is minuscule, the governor added.
"It's not even in the same ZIP code," he said.
The pause is expected to last a week or a little more than a week, Cox said. The CDC recommends that anyone who has experienced a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should contact their health provider.
The governor acknowledged that there have been many "hot takes" throughout the pandemic, and almost everyone has been wrong about something at one point or another. So it's possible that he will be wrong, and people will look back on the pause and realize it was the right thing to do, Cox said.
He added that the Johnson & Johnson product isn't an inferior vaccine, and could even be seen as a superior vaccine because its single-shot administration has proven useful in getting harder-to-reach communities and populations access to the vaccine.
"We're so fortunate to have it," Cox said.
Also at Thursday's news conference, Cox announced that the state is no longer advising people who had a positive case of COVID-19 within the last 90 days not to get the vaccine. Though people who were infected within the last 90 days have some immunity to the disease, there is enough supply of the vaccine to allow those people to be eligible to receive it, as well, he said.
Cox spoke at a news conference Thursday morning before he and his wife, Utah first lady Abby Cox, were scheduled to receive their second doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
"We're excited about that," he said. "We're excited to join the ranks of the fully vaccinated."
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox provided a COVID-19 pandemic update at a Thursday morning news conference with PBS Utah. Watch the replay of the event below.
New COVID-19 cases
Also Thursday, Utah's number of COVID-19 cases increased by 456 on Thursday, with one more death and 40,578 vaccinations reported, according to the Utah Department of Health.
The rolling seven-day average number of positive cases per day is now at 390, according to the health department. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the "people over people" method is now 7.4%. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the "test over test" method is now 3.7%.
There are 146 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in Utah, including 57 in intensive care, state data shows. About 75% of intensive care unit beds are now occupied in Utah, including about 77% of beds in the state's 16 referral hospitals. About 60% of non-ICU hospital beds are now occupied, state data shows.
A total of 1,808,824 vaccine doses have been administered in the state, up from 1,768,246 Wednesday. A total of 1,150,933 Utahns have now received at least one vaccine dose, state data shows.
Just under 205,000 more vaccine doses were administered over the past week in Utah, which is the largest number administered in the state in a single week so far, Cox said. About 85% of Utahns 65 and older have received at least one vaccine dose, and 87% of people 70 and older now have one dose, he added.
A total of 741,819 Utahns are now fully vaccinated and more than 1.8 million total vaccine doses have now been administered in the state, according to Cox. A total of 2,065,760 total vaccine doses have been shipped to Utah so far.
Thursday's new numbers indicate a 0.1% increase in positive cases since Wednesday. Of the 2,470,828 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 15.9% have tested positive for COVID-19. The number of total tests conducted in Utah since the pandemic began is now at 4,433,684, up 18,714 since Wednesday, according to state data. Of those, 7,124 were tests of people who hadn't previously been tested for COVID-19.
The death that was reported Thursday was a Salt Lake County woman who was between the ages of 45 and 64 and was hospitalized when she died.
Thursday's totals give Utah 391,633 total confirmed cases, with 15,859 total hospitalizations and 2,162 total deaths from the disease.
Three more counties — Kane, Millard and Washington — have moved from the moderate transmission level to the low level this week under Utah's transmission index system, Cox said. Daggett, Emery, Garfield, Juab, Piute, Rich, San Juan, Sanpete and Wayne counties are also at the low transmission level. All other Utah counties are at the moderate transmission level, according to the health department.
Utah's pandemic "endgame" bill, formally known as HB294, requires all state and local health orders related to COVID-19 to end on the day that Utah reaches the threshold in three key metrics: the state's 14-day case rate is less than 191 per 100,000 people, the seven-day average of COVID-19 intensive care unit usage is under 15%, and 1,633,000 prime doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been allocated to Utah.
As of Wednesday, Utah meets that threshold in the first two metrics. The 14-day case rate is 172.1 cases per 100,000 people, and the seven-day COVID-19 ICU average is now 10.6%.
A total of 1,133,775 prime doses have been allocated to the state so far. The state is expected to cross the 1,633,000 prime dose threshold by the middle of May, according to health officials. Prime doses refer to the first dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, as well as the sole dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Vaccine equity improving
Cox said Thursday that vaccine equity among Utah's varying ethnic and socioeconomic populations is improving.
"Across the board, we are seeing incredible numbers of vaccinations," the governor said.
Since early March when Utah announced an effort to address vaccination inequality through Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson's office, most populations in Utah have seen huge increases in vaccinations, Cox said.
Since March 4, Utah's Hispanic and Latino population has seen the largest bump, with a 463% increase in vaccinations. That population has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic in Utah and has been among the hardest hit by COVID-19, with an infection rate 254.8 per 1,000 people tested — the highest of any ethnic group in the state, according to state data.
The Asian population followed closely behind with a 459% increase in vaccinations since March 4, Cox said. Utah's population of native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders saw a 432% increase in vaccinations, and Black or African-American Utahns saw a 345% increase during that time.
Native Americans in Utah saw a 223% increase in vaccinations, Cox said. The comparatively low increase compared to other ethnic minorities in Utah is due to the fact that tribes worked with the federal government from the moment vaccines were available in the U.S. to quickly vaccinate their most vulnerable members, so they started out ahead, the governor said. Because of that, Utah's San Juan County, which includes a portion of the Navajo Nation, outpaced all other counties in Utah in vaccination rates earlier in 2021 and remains in the top three counties in Utah, Cox added.
White or caucasian Utahns have seen a 262% increase in vaccinations since March 4, Cox said.
Though the federal pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine isn't expected to disrupt Utah's vaccine plans, it may affect the state's ability to get rural, isolated Utah communities, which Cox called "frontier" communities, inoculation access.
The state has succeeded in closing some of the vaccine inequity gaps by providing one-day vaccination clinics where mobile vaccine units travel to those frontier communities and get as many shots in arms as possible over the course of a single day, Cox said. Since the Johnson & Johnson vaccine only requires one dose, it's been helpful in those settings, he said.
The pause might have an effect on that process, but in the meantime there is enough supply of the Pfizer and Moderna products that Utah should be able to continue covering those gaps, Cox said.
"We're really anxious to get our most vulnerable fully vaccinated," Cox said.
More information about Utah's health guidance levels is available at coronavirus.utah.gov/utah-health-guidance-levels.
Information is from the Utah Department of Health and coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts. For more information on how the Utah Department of Health compiles and reports COVID-19 data, visit coronavirus.utah.gov/case-counts and scroll down to the "Data Notes" section at the bottom of the page.