Vaccine rollout continues with low supply and high demand

by Logan Finney, Idaho Reports

Idahoans ages 65 and older will become eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations on the first day of February. With increased demand, the state is making efforts to distribute vaccines as quickly and fairly as possible despite the limited quantity of doses coming into Idaho.

Officials had previously considered using an online tool to schedule vaccination appointments at the statewide level but said that it was redundant with the efforts already underway at each of the public health districts. Instead, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has created a webpage with information on how to get vaccinated through your public health district and local healthcare providers.

In a Tuesday press briefing, DHW Director Dave Jeppesen said that with roughly 296,000 residents in the 65 and older category and just under 21,000 first doses coming into the state each week, it could take months to vaccinate the entire group.

According to Jeppesen, a total of 181,100 doses had been delivered to the state at the end of last week with 51 percent of those doses administered, compared to a national average of 53 percent.

Governor Brad Little announced on Thursday a new executive order that will require COVID-19 vaccine providers to report the number of doses they have been allocated by their local public health district, how many doses they have administered, and how many doses they have in their inventory.

“Safety and transparency are paramount in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine in Idaho,” Governor Little said. “We owe it to Idahoans to get shots in the arms of people who want it within seven days of doses coming into Idaho.”

The new reporting requirements are intended to ensure transparency and to enable the state to provide assistance if providers are not administering their doses quickly enough.

“I want to be clear – there is still a big gap between supply and demand at this point,” Little said. “Based on our current allocation, it could take nearly two months for eligible people to receive their first dose.”

Officials are hopeful that the pace could pick up as vaccines from additional manufacturers are authorized for use, including some single-dose vaccines that only require refrigeration unlike current vaccines which must be kept frozen.

“We all know that AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are in the queue. Also, Moderna and Pfizer are being asked—and frankly it’s in their best interest—to ramp up production,” Little said. “I think we’re going to have over half of our population done hopefully by spring or early summer, but it depends upon those other two vaccines.”

Idaho has continuously been among the states with the lowest number of doses received and administered per capita, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our understanding is that doses are supposed to be distributed on an equal per capita basis. That is not what has been happening,” Jeppesen said Tuesday. “We have actually this week reached out to the new administration to ask that question, to officially lodge our concern as to why Idaho is receiving less per capita than other states and ask them to remedy that situation.”

At least some delay in the rollout stems from a federal pharmacy program in partnership with CVS and Walgreens, who are administering vaccines for long term care facility residents and workers.

“Some of those doses, they haven’t even done the first doses yet, so there’s definitely some delay there,” state epidemiologist Christine Hahn said. “We thought that having the help of Walgreens and CVS would make things faster, but it hasn’t worked out that way.”

Immunization Program manager Sarah Leeds said that all of the first dose clinics for long term care facilities should be scheduled by the first days of February.

As of Tuesday, officials said 33,150 of Idaho’s total doses had been allocated to the two pharmacy chains. The Idaho Statesman now reports more than 10,000 of those doses are being returned to the state’s control.

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District 1: Panhandle District Health

(Boundary, Bonner, Kootenai, Benewah, Shoshone)

District 2: Public Health-Idaho North Central Health District

(Latah, Nez Perce, Lewis, Clearwater, Idaho)

District 3: Southwest District Health

(Adams, Washington, Payette, Gem, Canyon, Owyhee)

District 4: Central District Health

(Valley, Boise, Elmore, Ada)

District 5: South Central Public Health District

(Blaine, Camas, Gooding, Lincoln, Jerome, Minidoka, Cassia, Twin Falls)

District 6: Southeastern Idaho Public Health

(Butte, Bingham, Power, Bannock, Caribou, Oneida, Franklin, Bear Lake)

District 7: Eastern Idaho Public Health

(Custer, Lemhi, Clark, Fremont, Jefferson, Jefferson, Madison, Teton, Bonneville)

All health district links are current as of 1/29/2021.

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