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The phases of a pandemic, as told by former head of the nation's health department

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former Utah governor and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt talks to Jim Spiewak about the state and national response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (KUTV)

What happens next in the pandemic might be the hardest part to get through.

That notion was expressed on Friday by former Utah governor and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

“Naturally, as time goes on, it gets harder,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt led the nation's health department 15 years ago during the H5N1 "bird flu" pandemic.

He said responding gets harder as a pandemic drags on and, in this case, people have gotten COVID-19 fatigue. But pandemics require time and patience, and happen in phases.

First, the world had to develop a vaccine, which has now happened.

Then, the distribution must be figured out, and the U.S. has done that with the COVID vaccine.

But, persuading people to get it is another issue — especially since the COVID vaccine requires two shots, weeks apart.

“People will undoubtedly find it difficult to get around to the second dose, and that's a problem,” Leavitt said.

Leavitt thinks the perception of the vaccine will change over time and expects to see a lot of effort informing people about it.

"But scheduling twice, just getting around to it, keeping it on your schedule, there's bound to be some people that don't follow through — and that will hurt us all," Leavitt said.

Which all leads up to maybe the most important question at this point of the pandemic: How does Utah not screw this up?

Look, there are going to be mistakes, and we're going to do it with an imperfect efficiency," Leavitt said. "There's been some bad things that have happened around pandemics, and I’m optimistic we won't be one of them."

The transition of administrations at both the state and federal level will be key parts in the pandemic response. Leavitt said the federal transition will be more complex, but thinks both will go smoothly.