Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson toured Tooele County’s Health Department’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Wednesday morning.
Henderson’s visit was part of a tour of all of Utah’s local health departments to observe vaccine delivery and listen to local health officials’ needs and concerns as the vaccination effort in the state ramps up.
After visiting Tooele County, Henderson tweeted: “This is only week 3 of being LG, but these local health department visits are my favorite thing about my job so far. This AM was Tooele health department. They’re exceeding state goals with the resources they have and we’re working to get what they need to ramp up capacity.”
Tooele County Health Department Director Jeff Coombs said he shared two obstacles for capacity expansion with Henderson — bodies and funding.
“Right now we’re pulling people away from their jobs that are funded by contracts and grants,” said Coombs. “We can’t pay them for vaccination work from those funds. Also as we expand the vaccine clinic we will need more people to staff them.”
Coombs said the county needs help from the National Guard and additional funding for COVID-19 vaccination clinic staffing.
The health department’s parking lot was full on Wednesday morning of senior citizens showing up for vaccine appointments.
The appointment system may have been a little overwhelmed at first, but with 10 people answering phones, on Tuesday the health department made over 2,000 appointments for vaccinations for people 70 and older. Appointments were scheduled either by phone or over the internet.
Those appointments extend into February.
“We will continue to take appointments and once our appointments reach the limit of our vaccine supply we will take names for a waiting list,” Coombs said.
Right now Tooele County is receiving around 600 to 800 doses of COVID-19 vaccine each week, which is 2.2% of the state’s supply. The county’s allocation is based on the percentage of the state’s population that lives in the county.
The doses available for the health department’s clinics will increase as the health department’s school nurses finish vaccinating teachers and as vaccinating health care workers and long -term care workers and residents wraps up, according to Coombs.
There are also two more vaccine manufacturers with vaccines that are on the verge of being approved, according to Coombs.
The vaccine clinic at the health department has the capacity to vaccinate around 400 to 450 people each day. When the capacity needs to increase, Mountain West Medical Center can ramp up with delivering an additional 200 vaccinations per day. Beyond that, the Deseret Peak Complex can be used to deliver 1,000 vaccinations a day, Coombs said.
Eventually, as the vaccine becomes more readily available, vaccinations will be available at local pharmacies, according to Coombs.
The vaccine supply that the county is receiving is for the first dose of the vaccine. The state will send a separate supply for second doses based on the number and date of first vaccinations, Coombs said.
At the health department clinic people are first greeted inside the main entrance given a quick scan for symptoms, including a temperature check, and then their appointment time is checked.
They then enter the hallway where a health department staff member mans a sanitation station. If the wait is long there are chairs lined up — six feet apart — in the hallway.
People enter the west end of the auditorium where a health department worker gives each person information on the vaccine, how to avoid vaccine scams, and the v-safe smart phone app.
Again, with properly spaced physical distancing, they enter the center of the auditorium to receive their vaccine.
Once vaccinated, they move into the east end of the auditorium where they sit for 15 minutes, in case they have a reaction to the vaccination. Then they exit the building by the north east door.
Health Department school nurses have a schedule for vaccination clinics in schools for teachers.
Lt. Gov. Henderson described the vaccination effort as a joint effort with the local health departments, with the communities, and with state government.