Healthcare worker, EMTs
first to get COVID vaccine
By Ben Lasseter
The first phase of the nationwide COVID-19 vaccine rollout has reached Sanpete County caregivers and emergency personnel as the virus continues to spread in the county.
Doses of the vaccine went to Gunnison Valley Hospital, Sanpete Valley Hospital and the Central Utah Department of Public Health (CUDPH) for local distribution, starting in the final week of December. These entities follow state guidelines to give vaccines to people in prioritized groups.
Intermountain Healthcare also gave first doses to all employees and volunteers at its family clinics in the county and Sanpete Valley Hospital. In total, the healthcare company had administered 122 first doses by Friday, according to Lance Madigan, Intermountain media relations manager.
“It’s a simple way to protect my family and the patients that I am serving in our community,” said Chad McKay, a residential nurse who was the first employee to receive a vaccine shot at Sanpete Valley Hospital, in a press release.
An employee at Country Lane Assisted Living said all of its caregivers who elected to receive the vaccine had gotten the first of the two doses necessary for full immunization.
As of last Thursday, Gunnison Valley Hospital had given first doses to all caregivers and staff in the local hospital, care facilities, health clinics, dentist offices and pharmacies, according to Brenda Bartholomew, chief nursing officer. Emergency personnel are the next category to receive doses. Bartholomew said she expected her hospital alone to have administered more than 200 doses by the end of last week.
The hospital started conducting vaccinations just days before Dr. Dwight Inouye, a family physician in the Gunnison Valley for 40 years, died of complications of COVID-19 at 71.
Other than Inouye, Bartholomew said some caregivers have contracted the virus there, but that there were never more than two nurses or “a few” employees in total who had it at the same time. Those who did were able to complete quarantine protocols safely, she said.
The CUDPH had received three tranches of vaccine doses as of last week that amounted to 1,400 in total. Director Nate Selin said the first arrived on Wednesday, Dec. 23. He expected 400 more to arrive this week.
He said his department has followed the official Utah coronavirus distribution guidelines. As of last Thursday, he said they had “pretty much finished up” giving the first round of shots to non-hospital healthcare workers, including dentists, clinic workers and so forth. Some Sanpete County emergency responders had also received the shot.
These doses added up to about 900 that the CUDPH alone had administered by then. Selin said the department was working with Sanpete Valley Hospital to use those left over.
To date, Sanpete County has had 2,647 COVID-19 cases and 13 deaths. There have been 651 new cases and four deaths since the Messenger last reported the count on Thursday, Dec. 23.
As of Monday, there were 309 known active COVID-19 cases in the county.
The state coronavirus website lists detailed groups in tiers of priority to receive the vaccine. Healthcare workers are first, then long-term care facility staff and residents, first responders, K-12 school staff, Utahns 70 years and older and finally, all Utahns.
“We expect COVID-19 vaccines will be available to all Utahns in April-July 2021,” the site reads.
Selin said delays that had slowed distribution in other regions of the state and country had not affected his department. He said areas with relatively low populations like this one may have fewer opportunities for problems in dealing with smaller volumes of patients.
“Our rollout I think has gone really well, and I think it’s attributed to the partnerships we have between our local hospitals, clinics and first-responder agencies. We all work together frequently,” he said.
In the coming weeks, the CUDPH will shift focus to vaccinating school employees, but Selin guessed it would take closer to two weeks to give shots to all of them.
As hospitals come to require fewer doses and more companies develop vaccines, Selin said he hoped the rollout could accelerate.
The CUDPH has only received and used the Moderna vaccine so far. The Johnson & Johnson and AstraZenica vaccines in trial now are on track to be approved within the next month, according to Selin.
Kyler Daybell, a firefighter for Ephraim City, received his first vaccine dose Friday. He said it was available by then to everyone in his department and that other first responders in the county would have the same opportunity by today.
“I would say 90 percent of the flu shots I’ve gotten were worse than this one,” he said of the discomfort involved.
Cheryl Hansen, a nurse at Gunnison Valley Hospital who received her first round of the vaccine last week, said other than an ache in her arm that she described as “routine,” she had experienced no side effects.
“I encourage everyone to seek out and take the opportunity to take the vaccine and slow the spread,” she said.
Bartholomew advised anyone seeking to learn about the vaccine to rely on “reputable sources,” including their personal caregiver, rather than “hearsay or social media.”
“I would just encourage our community to get vaccinated when they have the opportunity to get life back to normal,” Bartholomew said.
Selin said, “Ultimately, individuals have to choose. We want people to make an informed decision based on what is best for them. Obviously, we recommend that people get the vaccine.”
He said the COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved “do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19 and cannot give someone COVID-19.”
In the past, he explained, vaccine development has included growing a virus and using weakened or dead germs left from it in the doses. The Moderna vaccine and others available, however, use mRNA, which works within human cells during the protein synthesis process to trigger immune response.
He also said developers used computer design programs to “design, develop and sequence” the vaccine before beginning trials on March 16, in Moderna’s case.
Selin asked the community to help spread knowledge to the elder population about vaccines becoming available to them soon.
“On the week of the 18th, we want them to get on our website and register or call us so we can get them the vaccine,” he said.
Other reasons for the accelerated emergency authorization of the two American companies’ vaccines, he said, were because they did not study how some specific groups would respond. Pregnant and nursing women, for example, should consult with caregivers before being vaccinated, he said.
Everyone who seeks to be vaccinated will need two doses 28 days apart, Bartholomew said. Patients will be considered immunized 10 days following the second shot.
For more information about Utah’s vaccine distribution plan, visit coronavirus.utah.gov.