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SALT LAKE CITY — Some 305,000 Utahns have already gotten a COVID-19 booster shot in the past months, according to the Utah Department of Health, about one out of every six people in the state who are fully vaccinated against the deadly virus.
Last week, Gov. Spencer Cox joined other states, including California, Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas and West Virginia, in expanding eligibility for the booster shots to anyone 18 and older. Cox cited continued high coronavirus transmission rates throughout Utah, as well as confusion over what were then the federal standards for the shots.
Although most American adults qualified for a booster shot based on their age, medical condition or occupation, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and prevention agreed last Friday that everyone 18 and older nationwide can get a shot.
However, the CDC spells out that those who received the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago should get a booster shot if they're over 50 or live in a long-term care facility, as well as everyone 18 and older who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago.
The federal government continues to allow mixing and matching booster shots, meaning someone can choose to get a different brand of vaccine. Pfizer remains the most popular vaccine in Utah, state health department spokesman Tom Hudachko said, likely because it's the most widely available.
But he said Utahns shouldn't stress over which vaccine to pick.
"Take what you can get. Obviously, mixing and matching is approved now. If you started with Moderna and you can only find a Pfizer for a booster, get the Pfizer. And visa versa," he said.
Local health departments and pharmacies are administering the most vaccinations by far in Utah, Hudachko said, with some accommodating walk-ins. He said there are more than 900 vaccine providers in the state, including many doctors offices, and plenty of doses available.
Links to providers are listed on the state's coronavirus.utah.gov website.
The state hopes to soon start publicly tracking COVID-19 booster doses, but Hudachko said there have been about 305,000 shots since August, when a third shot was made available to the immunocompromised. Booster shots were later rolled out in September and October to older adults as well as those deemed at high risk.
So far, about 61% of Utahns 65 and older have received a booster shot, he said. Older Utahns are considered the most vulnerable to the virus and have the highest vaccination rates. Just over 55% of all Utahns are considered fully vaccinated, meaning it's been two weeks or more since their final initial shot.
A "significant number of people" in the state are expected to get booster shots now that the eligibility has been expanded, Hudachko said.
We really hope that over the course of the coming weeks and months ... that anybody who's older than 18 should take advantage of the opportunity to get a booster dose.
–Tom Hudachko, Utah health department spokesman
"We really hope that over the course of the coming weeks and months, as we start to get into the winter season and people head indoors, and they're gathering inside for the holidays, that anybody who's older than 18 should take advantage of the opportunity to get a booster dose," he said.
All of the appointments available Monday for booster shots at the Davis County Health Department were booked before noon and the remaining days before Thanksgiving were filling up fast, according to the county health department's spokesman, Trevor Warner.
"We are very busy," Warner said.
Utah, which recorded 3,829 new COVID-19 cases and 14 additional deaths from the virus since Friday, had been among the nation's hot spots along with other Mountain West states. Currently, Minnesota, Michigan and New Hampshire have the highest case counts in the nation, according to the Mayo Clinic.
But in a message to Utah's vaccine providers last Friday urging them to push booster shots, Cox warned the state is still threatened by the virus.
"Ongoing high levels of community transmission continue to jeopardize the health of Utahns statewide. As cooler weather drives Utahns indoors, more individuals without full vaccine protection will be exposed to the highly contagious delta variant," the governor said.
Even as tens of thousands of newly eligible children 5-11 years old have gotten vaccinated against COVID-19, Cox said, "Utah continues to experience a significant wave of disease spread, placing all Utahns at high risk of contracting the disease."