Tammy Tucker, Moab Regional Hospital nurse, receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, administered by Darci Miller on Dec. 28. [Photo: Moab Regional Hospital]

According to the Southeast Utah Health Department, 1,273 residents throughout the tri-county region have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Feb. 10. Statewide, efforts to get people inoculated against the coronavirus continue, despite issues with supplies and organization.

“All in all, the actual administration of the vaccine has gone really, really well,” said Bradon Bradford, SEUHD director. Bradford is overseeing the effort in Grand, Emery and Carbon counties. Since COVID-19 testing began, the area has seen 2,663 positive COVID-19 tests. Twenty Southeast Utah patients have died due to complications from the virus.

Confirmed COVID-19 rates have dropped across Utah and the nation in the past weeks.

“The COVID situation in general looks better, our positivity rates are going down and we’re creeping closer to spring,” said Bradford. “We’ve been patient for this long, we just have to be patient a little bit more and keep those good practices in place to protect people.”

“We also have to have the patience to know that we will all have a turn to get a shot,” said Bradford. “Even if it’s not as fast as we want, it’s coming.”

Bradford noted that in Grand County, the majority of teachers and staff in the Grand County School District and the area’s first responders have been vaccinated.

“The great thing in Grand County is that we’ve had agencies collaborate with us that can give vaccines and provide additional volunteer nurses,” he said. “That has really helped, though we’re still the best equipped to give a lot of vaccines out.”

“We’re grateful to work with local agencies to make sure that everybody gets done,” said Bradford, “and we’re excited to move forward and focus on this age group, our over-70-year-olds, because they are most at risk of being hospitalized.”

SEUHD officials have urged Grand County seniors to call the department to make an appointment to be vaccinated.

Beginning March 1, the state of Utah will offer vaccines to those 65 to 69 years of age and those younger who have specific underlying health conditions.

“The goal is to prioritize those 70 and over now, so that when we get more vaccines they are first in line,” said SEUHD public information officer Brittney Garff.

Reservations for vaccination appointments are available on the SEUHD website at www.seuhealth.com as well as via a county-specific phone number. Grand County residents should call 435-259-5602; Emery County residents may call 435-381-2252; and Carbon County residents can call 435-637-3671.

“We really wanted a way for those who aren’t very familiar with internet procedures to easily make an appointment,” said Bradford, “as well as a backup way of making sure that they can get a shot.”

Bradford said that vaccination appointments have been quick and smooth thus far.

“People that are able to get an appointment are in and out in just 20 minutes,” he said, “and 15 of those minutes are just an observation period.”

Bradford said that the process has been a relief. He oversaw the vaccination program during the swine flu, or H1N1, pandemic in 2009-2010.

“This has been a great improvement over the last time we did mass vaccinations for H1N1,” said Bradford. “Then, there were waiting lines and we ran out of vaccine and things like that.”

The one area that the health department director hopes for improvement is in the number of vaccines provided to the department by the state.

“Our population is 1.34% of Utah’s population, so that’s what we get,” said Bradford, indicating that the number of vaccines distributed to counties was being based on population. “The state is being very prescriptive on that.”

“It is frustrating when we have this high demand and we’re splitting doses between three counties,” said Bradford. “There is just not very many left for each pot. So there is an element of frustration there.”

However, Bradford said that the state plans on expanding and increasing the number of vaccine doses allotted to each region in the next few weeks.

“There are always challenges,” said Bradford, “but right now, the actual giving of the shot is not a big deal. The data entry associated with that shot is a pretty big challenge, however, because the state is essentially asking for real-time information.”

Bradford said that while the administrative task isn’t currently taxing the staff, as the available doses increase so will the data entry time.

“We’re hoping that as things change, we get some heads up from the state so we can schedule people for their shots and so everyone knows what to do,” said Bradford.

The state of Utah has provided some technical support to the local vaccination effort

“Pretty much every week we come in, and we know something’s going to be different from what we did last week,” said Bradford. “It is a real job.”

Still, he remains optimistic about the future.

“The vaccine will be a real blessing to get our community and doing the things that we love to do and the events we love to host,” said Bradford.

Those who show any symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to get tested at Moab Regional Hospital. To talk to a nurse about symptoms and schedule a test, call the Moab Regional Hospital COVID-19 hotline at 435-719-3998.

To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccination or to schedule an appointment, go to www.seuhealth.com or call 435-259-5602 in Grand County.