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Summit County shows a 100% first dose COVID-19 vaccination rate; county health department says that's not the whole story

A nurse holds a vial containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination site.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
A nurse holds a vial containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination site.

With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 continuing its rapid spread across Utah and the rest of the world, local public health officials are keeping an eye on more than just daily case counts to help gauge how to respond.

The COVID-19 news over the past week has been grim. Statewide, daily case counts have risen to levels not seen since one year ago, before vaccines were widely available. In Summit County, case counts have been at an all-time high.

Although the daily case counts are troubling, Summit County Health Director Phil Bondurant says that’s only one data point to look at when determining how severe this wave of the virus is.

“Case counts are concerning, but our main focus is hospitalizations," says Bondurant. "So as long as those individuals realize their situation, understand that it is COVID or is not, but are still taking precautions to stay home when they’re sick, ultimately, that’s the outcome we want.”

According to the Summit County health dashboard, nine people have been admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 in the county since early December. Three of them since the most recent Omicron surge.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said last week that early studies of the Omicron variant are pointing toward it being less severe than the deadly Delta variant that swept the globe in early fall.

Health officials agree, however, that the best way to be protected from serious illness is to be vaccinated.

In Summit County, the health department dashboard claims that 100% of eligible people in the county have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 85% are considered to be fully vaccinated.

While those numbers are impressive, and the highest in Utah, Bondurant says that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Early on in the vaccine rollout in the late winter and early spring of 2021, Summit County had more vaccine per capita than many areas of the state. Bondurant says the availability of the vaccine in Summit County in those early days led to a good number of people lying about being Summit County residents in order to get a shot.

“While we didn’t know at the time, looking back retrospectively, we know that people gave us false addresses to appear as a Summit County resident," he says. "Whether that’s good or bad is not for me to determine, because, ultimately, that’s another person within our community or that’s here visiting or that’s somewhere else in the world that’s vaccinated.”

Bondurant says 2020 census data shows that there are just over 40,000 people over the age of five and eligible for the vaccine in Summit County. But health department data says 43,000 vaccines have been given to people claiming Summit County addresses.

While the numbers can be confusing, Bondurant says the health department was trying to administer as many doses of the vaccine as quickly as possible. He says while the health department was verifying that addresses given by people looking to get vaccinated were in fact real, they were not checking whether the person lived there or not.

“The numbers look odd, and I’ll be the first to admit that," Bondurant says. "When I look at this chart here, and it shows that in the 50-64 year old category, we have 125% of that population vaccinated, we can all recognize that that is not possible. But we share it in a way that it’s as transparent as can be, and to say, ‘hey, this is where we’re at, this is why these numbers report the way they do.’ We don’t have any other way of filtering them out, [retroactively].”

According to the Utah Department of Health, in the last month, unvaccinated people are over 18 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than vaccinated people are, and nearly 10 times more likely to go to the hospital.

To find a free vaccination location near you for a first dose or booster shot, click here.

Corrected: January 3, 2022 at 5:10 PM MST
A previous version of this report misspelled Dr. Anthony Fauci's name.
Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.