SALT LAKE CITY – Utah has been promised nearly 155,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine as soon as the immunization injection is approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Gov. Gary Herbert made that announcement at his weekly press conference Thursday, adding that he expected approval of the vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech this week and significant deliveries to Utah should begin by late December.
That ray of light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, coming the same day that Utah topped 1,000 coronavirus deaths, even brought Governor-elect Spencer Cox to the weekly press briefing.
“There is an end to this pandemic and the end is coming,” predicted Cox, who has been largely absent from the state’s COVID-19 Unified Command spotlight since his gubernatorial race began in earnest in early summer. The lieutenant governor promised that his upcoming administration would distribute the vaccine to Utahns quickly and efficiently.
The first Utahns in line to receive vaccine will be healthcare providers, the governor said, followed by teachers, staff and administrators of the state’s K-12 public school districts.
That policy will likely be controversial, since it runs counter to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control that the vaccine should be administered first to healthcare providers and then to residents of elder and long-term care facilities.
“We need teachers to teach,” the governor said, defending that decision. Immunizing public school teachers and staff will not only protect their students, he argued, but also relieve pressure on Utah families by reducing frequent school closings and transitions to online instruction in response to unexpected viral outbreaks.
While the coronavirus briefing was underway in Salt Lake City, progress was being made toward U.S. approval of the promised vaccine in Washington, D.C.
On Thursday, an FDA advisory panel voted to endorse the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, a first step toward departmental leaders authorizing emergency mass distribution of the two-injection immunization drug nationwide.
With objective vaccine experts and Pfizer representatives in attendance, several members of that panel questioned whether the FDA had sufficient evidence to presume that the experimental vaccine was safe and effective for immunization of individuals as young as 16 years of age.
After those doubts were assuaged by assurances that teenagers would not be among those prioritized for the initial distribution of the vaccine, panel members voted 17 to 4 to recommend distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
If FDA officials give final approval of the vaccine, the United States will join Canada, the United Kingdom and Bahrain in adopting the rapidly developed immunization drug.