BRHD director says COVID-19 relief not around the corner

Bear River Health Department

CACHE COUNTY – In his first public report to the members of the Logan City Council on Tuesday, the new director of the Bear River Health Department warned that northern Utah has a long way to go before the coronavirus pandemic will be overcome.

“There’s finally light at the end of the tunnel,” said Jordan D. Mathis, “but it’s still a long tunnel.”

That light, Mathis explained, is the promise of COVID-19 immunity thanks to vaccines developed by pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna. Those drugs have recently begun to be distributed to high-priority recipients here in the Bear River Health District.

According to statewide guidelines for the Utah Department of Health, those priority recipients are healthcare providers in hospitals, residents of long-term care facilities, non-hospital healthcare personnel, first responders, public school teachers and residents 75 years of age or older.

Once those priority recipients have been immunized, Mathis said, vaccinations will begin for the general public.

“If I had a crystal ball to consult,” Mathis replied when pressed for a timetable for that final phase of vaccinations by council member Tom Jensen, “I’d hope that maybe we’d be ready to start vaccinating the general public by the end of April. But that’s just me being hopeful; it’s just a wild guess.”

Another complicating factor, Mathis explained, is the reality that both vaccines aren’t fully effective with a single shot. The Pfizer vaccine requires a second dose 21 days after the first one is administered, while the Moderna vaccine must be re-administered after 28 days. Even after the second dose of the drugs, the recipient isn’t considered to be fully immune to the coronavirus for another two weeks.

But Mathis nevertheless had some good news for council members.

“Once the priority populations are vaccinated,” he explained, “we’re going to start seeing deaths decline and hospitalizations decline. That’s when we’ll start to see some relief.

“Yes, people in the general population will still get COVID-19, but the symptoms for most of them will be mild. We’ll probably see that kind of relief start gradually between now and end of March.”

Distribution of the vaccines is now proceeding through several different channels.

Vaccines are being administered to residents of long-term care facilities through Walgreens and CVS pharmacies under a federal contract. For example, Logan council member Amy Anderson said that residents and staff of Sunshine Terrace are scheduled to be vaccinated on Friday.

Area hospitals also received separate allocations for vaccines for their personnel.

Of the 3,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine received so far by the Bear River Health Department, Mathis said 2,095 have been administered.

“Right now, BRHD is focusing on non-hospital healthcare workers, including dentists, doctors not associated with hospitals, chiropractors and even veterinarians,” the health director said. “Basically, we’re after anyone who has person-to-person contact in their professions, included EMT and EMS personnel.

“We also began administering vaccine to our first-responders yesterday, that is police and firefighters. They can now go to the BRHD website to register to come in for a vaccination.”

Next in line for the vaccine will be teachers and residents 75 years or older, Mathis added.

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