After an 18-month delay in plans, Wasatch County’s top health official is retiring.
Randall Probst has been the director of Wasatch County Public Health for about eight years. He started his career as a nurse and has spent 35 years in healthcare administration with stints at several hospitals. He said a county water study delayed his retirement initially planned for December of 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, derailed his plans to retire in the spring of 2020.
"Agreed to stay on and finish up that water study and get it done around April, and of course, February-March is when COVID hit,” he said of 2020. “So, I agreed to stay on a little longer and at least help start to navigate through the pandemic. I stayed all through. I felt like this summer, June, I felt that everybody that wants a vaccine will have it by June 1. And I felt like that was a good transition period."
Probst’s replacement, Jonelle Fitzgerald, will transition to her new health department leadership role on June 1.
Probst said the pandemic experience has been unique, and he is happy he could stay on to help the county over the past year. When asked to speculate what the health department could face in the second year of COVID, he said it's uncertain, but herd immunity and vaccinating as many as possible is key to containing the virus.
"There's so much unknown still about the virus and how long we'll have immunity from the vaccine,” he said. “There are some good indications that the vaccine is working and still holding, still providing immunity. And there's been all kinds of projections from whether we will have to have a booster each year or whether this might provide longer immunity. A lot of that depends on how quickly we are able to get the majority of the people vaccinated and get a high level of herd immunity."
Last week, Wasatch County stopped administering the Johnson and Johnson vaccine pending the CDC’s evaluation of its safety. Probst said the pause would probably last several weeks.
The Moderna vaccine clinics will be held weekly, Tuesdays through Thursdays. Probst ordered 500 Pfizer vaccines for Wasatch County for 16- and 17-year-olds. He said he has not had parental pushback on the issue of vaccinating students.
"Interestingly, most of the opposition we've had have not been from actual parents,” he said. “It's been from the community members who don't feel a vaccine is needed. ... When I'm out helping with each of the vaccination clinics each day, I'm kind of out at the front point checking people in and we've had many of the parents say how can we get vaccine for our students without having to go somewhere else."
He is very optimistic that the Food and Drug Administrtion will soon approve vaccinations for children. The health department continues to work closely with the schools to ensure they can open safely in the fall. He thinks kids as young as 12 will be able to get vaccinated by this fall.
Probst said the pandemic had brought the community closer as they worked through the past year's challenges.
"We've been able to identify underserved areas,” he said. “We've been able to identify disparate populations. We've had coalitions working together to make sure we're getting information and opportunities and resources for those who have been so adversely affected by this. But I've seen a great coming together in that regard, as well as all of our organizations working together. That's one of the reasons that it's been rewarding for me."
Probst, who raised in the Heber Valley, said he has no immediate plans for his retirement other than to do a little farming.