Fewer than 5% of all Utahns have received the latest COVID-19 shot since it was released in mid-September, a rate that lags behind nationwide numbers that are being described as “absymal.”
“It’s what we expected. We didn’t think there’d probably be a lot of people that’d get the COVID vaccine,” said Rich Lakin, the Utah Department of Health and Human Services’ immunization director, who shared the data with the Deseret News.
Lakin said as of Friday, the department’s internal tabulation shows 157,677 Utahns have gotten the shot updated to target a recent version of the virus, which is just under 4.9% of the population. He said that number is up about 40,000 from last week.
“That’s not too bad, If we can continue at 40,000 a week through Thanksgiving, that would be great,” Lakin said, adding that a slow down in the uptake is more likely, at least until “there’s more people that are hospitalized and sick” from COVID-19.
“That’s always a trend. It’s been a trend with flu and it will be a trend with COVID also,” he said, with cold weather expected to bring an increase in the spread of respiratory viruses as more people spend time indoors and at holiday gatherings.
Nearly 88,000 Utah adults ages 60 and older have already rolled up their sleeves for the new vaccine, along with more than 59,000 adults 18 to 59 years old, according to a breakdown provided by Lakin.
But only around 10,700 Utah children have gotten the shots that are available to anyone six months and older. More than half of those children were over 12 and less than 1,700 were under 5.
Nationally, 7.1% of adults have received the new vaccine, but among children, that number dropped to 2.1%, according to an Oct. 8-14 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One expert on the CDC panel that saw the data Thursday, Dr. Camille Kotton of Harvard Medical School, labeled the rates “abysmal” and called for stepped-up public education efforts about the shots, The Associated Press reported.
The CDC survey found that nearly 38% of adults said they probably or definitely would not get the new COVID-19 shot, while 2 in 5 children have a parent who said they won’t be getting them vaccinated against the virus, either.
The new COVID-19 vaccine, intended to provide an annual dose of protection against the latest version of the virus like a yearly flu shot, had a rocky roll out after being approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC.
Not only were the shots hard to find thanks to distribution issues nationwide, some insurance companies were slow to cover the cost of shots that are no longer paid for by the federal government now that the national pandemic emergency is over.
There was a lot of initial interest from some Utahns in the new shots, the first since last year’s booster dose. The Salt Lake County Health Department was so overwhelmed the first day appointments were available that people were waiting on hold for up to 45 minutes.
“You always have your early vaccinators, so the demand will always be high in the beginning,” he said, suggesting that any pent-up demand for the new COVID-19 shots has been met. “It may trickle down from there. It’s hard for me to say.”
Although just over 64% of Utahns got the initial series of COVID-19 shots, less than 16% got a booster dose last year. Nationally, those numbers are also higher, with almost 70% of Americans getting the first round of shots, and 17%, a booster dose.
Utah’s new vaccination numbers follow a nearly a 7% increase in the weekly average number of people hospitalized in the state for COVID-19, to just under 75 as of Thursday, although the same average for new hospital admissions for the virus dropped from 12 to 7.
The amount of COVID-19 in wastewater in Utah, however, is at elevated or potentially concerning levels at just over 94% of the sewage treatment sites monitored throughout the state, with increased levels of the virus found in samples from more than 11% of the sites.