Utah immunization program leader reveals tentative COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan

In a media briefing on Wednesday morning, Rich Lakin, Immunization Program Manager at the Utah Department of Health, discussed the details of the state’s phased distribution plan for COVID-19 vaccines. He also discussed  key differences between the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines’ implementation. 

Lakin continually stated that these plans are not set in stone and are subject to change depending on vaccine approval and how much is in stock.


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“A lot of the information that I’m going to present on is early, so we really don’t know when we’re going to receive the vaccine yet, but we’re in our planning stages,” Lakin said.

 Lakin says the facilities with the capacity to administer vaccines (such as hospitals) will receive the vaccine when it is available and be able to administer it to health care workers themselves.The DOH will refer facilities without administration capacity to local health departments, pharmacies, and community nursing services to provide vaccines.

“I don’t have an exact number, but to be open about where I’m kind of estimating how much vaccine we will receive, it could be somewhere around 100,000 doses in the beginning,” Lakin said. “Again, don’t hold me to that because I don’t know how much vaccine we’re going to receive, but that’s kind of the indication that we have.”

Utah’s plan consists of three phases, which are further divided into multiple waves.

Phase 1

The first wave of the first phase will allow for vaccine distribution to prioritized groups of people. A select group of hospitals and their health professionals will have first access. Lakin stated “if all goes well,” these first vaccines will be available some time in December.

A Prioritization Workgroup consisting of professionals from numerous occupations developed the program for distributing vaccinations. It used information from the CDC and the Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices to determine who will receive vaccines first.

The DOH identified five hospitals that will receive vaccines during this first wave: the University of Utah Hospital, the LDS Hospital, the Intermountain Medical Center, the Utah Valley Regional Hospital, and the Dixie Regional Medical Center. These facilities were selected based on their high-intensity COVID responses. 

Lakin also mentioned these hospitals have the ultra-cold storage needed to store the Pfitzer vaccine, so they might receive shipments of it as early as this month. However, they still cannot start administering the vaccine until the Emergency Use Authorization is approved by the FDA.

The workgroup is allowing for these hospitals to decide who they want to give the vaccine to first. Lakin lists urgent care and ICU workers, the COVID ward, the emergency department, health care workers with pre-existing conditions, and housekeepers as possibilities. Additional hospitals might gain access to the vaccines shortly after the initial 5.

“During this time we are also onboarding as many hospitals as we can. We’re working with 30 right now to onboard,” Lakin explained. “We hope to have those hospitals onboarded so that they can receive the vaccine as soon as possible. If those 5 hospitals receive it the second week of December, we’re hoping that the additional 30 hospitals would be able to receive it just shortly after that, maybe 2 weeks after.”

Vaccines for Waves 2 and 3 of Phase 1 should be available in January. Remaining health care personnel can receive vaccinations during this time. This includes clinic staff, pharmacy staff, long-term care providers, and other health care professionals. The DOH will partner with local health departments and Walgreens to accelerate vaccine administration. This is also when the people who received vaccinations during Wave 1 will receive their second vaccination. 

Waves 2 and 3 should take place in February/March and will make vaccines available to any long-term care facility who have yet to receive them. The state developed a risk-level model based on occupation risk and used it to determine which essential workers will be the first to receive vaccinations.

Lakin briefly described how risk levels were identified under this model. Someone who is able to work from home would be classified as level 1 risk level, meaning they are at the lowest priority for receiving vaccines. A teacher who teaches in-person classes would be a level 3, and a health care worker would be a level 5. Utahns at the higher end of this spectrum will have access to the vaccines before the others.

Phase 2

The first three waves of Phase 2 should occur from March through July. This is when vaccines will become available to tribal entities, people who are over 65, certain racial/ethnic groups, and people in risk level 3. Lakin noted that others could potentially receive vaccines at this time, but this is dependent on how the administration of second vaccines affects the overall supply.

Phase 3

Around June/July, all Utahns should have access to the vaccines, says Lakin. An immunization program will be put in place to monitor the vaccine’s distribution based on population data, and this will be used to improve coverage and minimize waste. The immunization program and local health departments will continue to partner with public and private facilities to ensure vaccine accessibility. 

“We will look at data to ensure that if there’s pockets within the state of Utah that need to receive the vaccine, we can get that vaccine there,” Lakin said.

Second vaccination and Pfitzer/Moderna differences

Laking says the  second vaccine requirement for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be a factor in determining its availability throughout this process. 

“[The need for a second vaccine] really kind of puts logistics planning into how the vaccine is distributed, because if we get 100,000 doses and we don’t know exactly how much vaccine we’re gonna receive on the second dose, we have to be careful to make sure that those who have receive the first does can also receive the second dose 21 days later, or 28 days later for Moderna,” Lakin explained.

This could affect Utah’s distribution plan and is something the state will have to be vigilant of in the coming months, Lakin warned. He also noted that the two vaccines are not interchangeable. This means that if someone receives the Pfitzer vaccine for their initial vaccination, they must also take the Pfitzer vaccine for their second vaccination and they cannot switch to Moderna. Up-to-date information on the status of Colorado’s vaccine plan can be found here: www.coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine