The Salt Lake Chamber held an informative and important webinar regarding federal stimulus negotiations, vaccine distribution plans, and logistical importance of Utah in the nation’s cold chain network. This network of airplanes, airports, warehouses, refrigerated trucks comprises a physical logistics system that covers the United States. Participants included Senator Mitt Romney, Utah Department of Health (UDOH) Executive Director Rich Saunders, UDOH Immunization Program Manager Rich Lakin, and Jack Hedge, Executive Director of the Utah Inland Port Authority.
“We hope the rollout of the vaccine signals the beginning of the end for this pandemic,” said Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber. “We know Utah plays a vital role in national discussions on additional stimulus and is critical to the distribution of the vaccine across the country. The Salt Lake Chamber will continue to lead out and advocate for businesses to be essential in this multifaceted process including truckers, warehouse workers, healthcare staff, and many others who are making this logistical rollout possible.”
Senator Romney provided an outline of proposed stimulus dollars that will go towards economic relief for states, unemployment benefits, and targeted industry allocations to ensure our economic system remains intact. The legislative thinking revolves around a $ 300 billion allotment for the Paycheck Protection Program or PPP loans that are slated for forgiveness. According to the Senator, consensus is growing around an additional $300 billion in unemployment benefits for those continuing to look for work. Discussion is coalescing around an extension of the CARES Act funding states have for those expenses to be extended until the end of the fiscal year, in lieu of a calendar year cutoff.
“Good progress has been made on the bipartisan effort to provide emergency relief funding to small businesses and unemployed individuals across the country,” said Senator Romney. “This framework would include an extension in federal unemployment benefits, relief for struggling small businesses, help for Utah families and students, liability protections, and funding to support health care providers and vaccine distribution. It’s critical that Congress act on relief legislation before the end of the year.”
Emergency Use Authorization or EUA is expected to be received next week with vaccines to arrive within days of that authorization. The Utah Department of Health has conducted polling to determine community sentiment around the vaccine and found that public acceptance is near 70% who say they are open to receiving the vaccine when available. By comparison vaccination for influenza hovers around 40% according to the Utah Department of Health. There is no appetite for mandating the vaccine from a public health standpoint but questions arose as to business ability to require vaccination of their employees.
Vaccination efforts are expected early on to target hospital staff, long-term care patients and employees, and the most vulnerable at first through a hospital-centric rollout plan covering December and January. The amount of vaccine will drive aspects of the plan but the Department of Health has a risk matrix to help guide the order of rollout to employees and communities. The complexity of the rollout is increased due to the cold chain requirement and two-dose stage, with the Pfizer vaccine requiring a 21-day grace period between doses and Moderna’s requirements at 28 days to gain the 95% immunization efficacy threshold.
“The cold chain network moves daily pharmaceutical goods and food products across our nation, and Utah provides a crucial thoroughfare in the network, especially for temperature controlled products and time-sensitive agriculture,” said Jack Hedge, Executive Director of Utah’s Inland Port Authority. “The logistics operation of getting the vaccine from production to distribution may end up being one of the largest operations in our history. Utah transits about 30% of the strategic refrigerated cargo for our nation and this operation will add to the importance of our state in the national distribution pipeline.”
For those who were unable to attend the webinar, please click here to watch the recording.