Despite Progress, Bullough Says Don’t Expect a Widespread COVID-19 Vaccine Until Mid-2021
Summit County Health Director Dr. Rich Bullough told KPCW the county has been on the right track lately when it comes to managing the COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite some encouraging progress, a COVID cure is likely still months away.
Bullough said although an irresponsible party last month in Park City was partly responsible for a worrisome spike in COVID-19 cases in Summit County, county health officials have not seen any additional cases attached to the event.
To date, there has only been one recorded COVID-19 death in Summit County and Utah’s death rate as a whole has been well under the national average. Utah has seen deaths in under 1% of confirmed COVID-19 cases, the national average is hovering at around 3%. Bullough said Utah’s strong healthcare network and relatively young and healthy population contribute to the low number of fatal cases.
“You know, Utah in general has done very well and Summit County in particular has done extremely well,” said Bullough. “Some of that I think has to do with the fact that we have such an enormously good medical system in Utah, they’ve partnered very well together. I think we’ve been proactive in some of the actions we’ve taken, but we’re also fortunate to have a relatively young population who generally is healthy.”
Summit County extended its mandatory mask order into next year in late August and has seen a steady decrease in the average number of daily case counts since the troublesome spike in cases seen last month.
The opening of schools this fall has been a hot-button topic nationwide and Bullough said although Summit County schools are open and high school sports are back, things have been going well. He said the one positive case identified in schools so far was quickly quarantined and no new cases have been reported.
“We have a database where we’re tracking, we’re coordinating with the points of contact in the schools,” he said. “We’ve only identified one case. That case is in the Park City School District. That individual isolated very, very quickly, we believe the exposure was very limited, we don’t have any new cases coming from that, and we’ve not identified any cases in north or south Summit.”
Data early in the pandemic suggested COVID-19 was disproportionately affecting Summit County’s LatinX population. Bullough said although a single event in a particular community can skew numbers, it’s important to understand that data throughout the pandemic has clearly shown a link between poor COVID-19 outcomes and non-white populations across the country.
“Generally, throughout this entire event, it is accurate to say that non-white individuals, not just in our community but also across the state and across the nation, have been disproportionately affected,” Bullough explained. “Importantly, their outcomes are not as good. The mortality rate is much higher, chronic negative health issues associated with having COVID and having recovered, that’s things dealing with lungs, neuropathy, even heart conditions. The prevalence of those is higher in non-white individuals.”
When it comes to a future COVID-19 vaccine, Bullough warned of politically-motivated talk of a cure before the new year. He said from his research and conversations with other health experts, he’s optimistically looking at widespread vaccinations to be underway in Utah by next May at the earliest, with a more realistic date of sometime in the middle of next summer.
Although it may be another nine months before a nationwide vaccine, a limited number could be available for healthcare workers and other high-risk populations sooner.
“That doesn’t mean we’re not going to have vaccines,” he said. “We are expecting and were preparing to do vaccinations shortly after the first of the year. Whether or not that is what we end up doing, time will tell. It’s important to note that we’re being told the number of vaccines that are coming to the state of Utah in this first wave of vaccines, regardless of when that is, is going to be small. The priorities are going to be caregivers, medical caregivers, and first responders and perhaps some other high-risk populations.”
Bullough said he believes well under 1,000 vaccines will come to Summit County in the first wave. He said that number will not achieve herd immunity but will significantly slow the spread of the disease and allow for better management of outbreaks when they do occur.