Local public health mobilizes for COVID-19 vaccine

Utah’s 13 local health departments have now received the COVID-19 vaccine and are mobilizing to get it into the arms of residents from Logan to St. George.

“Our common goal is to ensure easy access for everyone who chooses to receive the vaccine no matter where they live,” said Lloyd Berentzen, President, Utah Association of Local Health Departments. “Each local health district is accustomed to working with their state and local officials and community partners to meet the health needs of their residents.”

As part of Utah’s COVID-19 Response Plan, the 13 local public health districts have been collaborating with their public and private sector partners to protect high-risk populations from the virus and preserve the ability of Utah’s healthcare system to care for those who require hospitalization. While the pandemic placed untold stress on many societal norms, it has brought these partner organizations closer together as they looked for ways to stretch their limited funds across the communities they serve.

“This is a service model that predates COVID-19,” Berentzen continued. “By partnering with our local school districts, hospitals, police and fire agencies, elected officials, non-profits and others, we function as a safety net in our community.”

Local public health officials will again be reaching out to community partners to stage mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics. Limited supplies of the vaccine will arrive in Utah each week to be distributed among the local health departments using a population-based formula. Most of the early clinics will be for invited audiences – frontline healthcare workers, educators, first responders and the high-risk elderly until ample supplies of the vaccine readily available.

The last time public health mobilized to hold such mass vaccination clinics was in 2009 during the H1N1 pandemic. The main difference between H1N1 and COVID-19 for organizers is that the virus is already circulating in the community. 

Because COVID-19 is a new disease, the vaccine comes in two-shot doses scheduled several weeks apart. Local health departments are planning to extend the mass clinics to ensure participants receive both doses.

Residents can stay in contact with their local health department for information on when the vaccine clinics are held in their area. For more information about your local health district, see ualhd.org.

Jill Parker is the executive director of the Utah Association of Local Health Departments