Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Seniors Become Eligible for the COVID Vaccine on Monday
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Remember last March when Ketchum’s streets were practically empty as people sheltered at home?
   
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

GRAPH BY PAUL RIES

A quarter million Idahoans 65 and older will become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, Feb. 1.

That 269,000 people  includes 20 percent of Blaine County's population, or about 4,600 people by South Central Public Health District estimates.

But don’t expect to get a vaccine the first week or, possibly, even during the month of February, Idaho’s health officials warn.

“We only receive 21,000 doses of vaccine a week so most of the people in that group will not be vaccinated that first week or even the second,” Idaho’s Director of Health and Welfare Dave Jeppesen told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “Anyone 65 and older who wants a vaccine is going to be able to get one. They just have to work through the appointment process. But it won’t happen the first week or even the first month.”

In fact, it will take multiple weeks, said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Idaho’s administrator of Public Health. But the state hopes to see an increase in the number of doses it is supplied by late February or March. And the emergency authorization of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is expected in February, and other vaccines could be game changers, said State Epidemiologist Christine Hahn.

“If we get that, everything’s going to speed up,” she added.

Hahn said Idaho’s COVID Vaccine Advisory Committee considered vaccinating those 75 and older, or even those 85 and older, before addressing younger seniors, knowing what a large and motivated group the seniors are. But the committee opted to give the entire population the opportunity to be vaccinated starting Feb. 1.

That said, some larger providers are reaching out to “senior seniors” since many of them will likely be less likely to quickly register online.

The state had been talking about having a PrepMod tool up and running by the first of February to help that population schedule appointments. But it found it redundant with local websites. So, it plans to debut an enhanced state website to explain who is eligible and connect them to their public health district websites to learn where they can make appointments in their area on Monday, Feb. 1.

Locally, vaccines are currently being administered by St. Luke’s Wood River and South Central Public Health Department in Bellevue.

St. Luke’s patients can schedule appointments online using myChart at mychart.slhs.org. Those who have never used St. Luke’s services may call St. Luke’s Connect at 208-381-9500.

myChart has not opened for scheduling for those 65 and older yet.

SCPHD is inviting people to sign up for a notification of when the vaccine is available for their priority group at https://www.cognitoforms.com/SouthCentralPublicHealthDistrict/COVID19VaccineUpdateForm. Or, call 208-788-4335.

Some Wood River Valley veterans have already been getting vaccines at the Boise VA.

“We do ask that when you do have an appointment, please keep that appointment. And if you have to cancel, please let your provider know as far in advance as possible. And don’t book with multiple providers,” Shaw-Tulloch advised, referring to Southwest Idaho where people have been making multiple bookings.

Health care workers, teachers and others who are already eligible for vaccines will remain eligible, said Hahn.

“But we would encourage teachers who haven’t yet signed up to call this week before the floodgates open.”

At the end of last week, Idaho had received 181,100 doses and had administered 51 percent—just under the national average of 53 percent, Jeppesen said. Health officials said that number does not include the second doses.

So far, 81,210 Idahoans have received at least one dose; 15,546 have received both.

One of the lags has been with the 33,150 primary doses supplied to CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate those in long-term care facilities. Although nursing home residents were among the first eligible to receive the vaccine, some are still awaiting theirs, although all should have that opportunity by the first week in February said Sarah Leeds, who heads up Idaho’s Immunization program.

“We thought having help from CVS and Walgreens would speed things up, but it hasn’t worked out that way.”

The federal government is supposed to be distributing vaccine doses to states on a per capita basis, but Idaho has been short-changed, Jeppesen said. Only South Carolina has received fewer doses per capita.

Alaska has received the most per capita doses so far—22,271 for every 100,000. West Virginia has received 15,534 doses per 100,000 residents. On the low end, Idaho has received just 10,298 doses per 100,000 residents while South Carolina has received 10,092 doses per 100,000 residents.

“We have reached out to the new administration expressing our concern over the fact we’re getting fewer doses. They said they would get back to us shortly. We have no understanding of why that’s happening and are very concerned about it.”

Jeppesen said efforts in the Idaho legislature to rescind Gov. Brad Little’s emergency order regarding the coronavirus pandemic would disrupt the state’s ability to vaccinate Idahoans against COVID-19.

The state would lose the use of National Guardsmen, some of whom may be tasked with taking the vaccine into out-of-the-way rural communities that other providers don’t want to go. The state’s request for an incident management team from FEMA to assist with vaccinations would be scotched because it can’t be done without an emergency declaration.

The state would lose federal funding to assist with vaccination clinics, and partnerships with federal partners such as the Boise VA Hospital would be affected.

Hahn said the state has three goals:

  • Speed--Getting the vaccine rolled out as quickly as possible
  • Safety. Some states have stumbled, even vaccinating people with the wrong products. Many of Idaho’s providers for the COVID vaccine are not people the state normally works with, she said, so taking on new providers has slowed the process in order to make sure they have the proper equipment and know-how.
  • Equity--That includes making sure small rural communities aren’t left behind and that various groups of people, such as Idaho’s tribes, Latinx community and refugees, are included.

Hahn said the state has wasted only 26 doses so far because someone couldn’t be found to vaccinate at the last minute or because of an error in handling.

“We’d rather it was zero,” she said.

Hahn added that private labs have been told to watch for anything suspicious that might indicate the new more contagious strains are circulating in the state. It’s expected the state lab will have the capacity to test for those strains sometime in February.

“The hospitalization rate is half of what it was in early December. We had worried we would not be where we are now so we are really pleased,” she added. “I personally notice more people wearing masks, but you can’t take anything for granted and one thing that’s looming is the threat of these more contagious strains.”

DON’T SCHEDULE IF IT’S NOT YOUR TURN

St. Luke’s has had lots of people who are not in the current tier selecting an open tier to book an appointment, says Joy Prudek, public information officer for St. Luke’s Wood River.

People must provide proof of employment – a badge or a W-2, pay stub that they are in the current tier (license or other valid ID when opens to over 65).

“To avoid being frustrated when they are turned away, we ask that people visit the State’s web site for the current groups open for vaccination, all of 1 and 2.1.  St. Luke’s is vaccinating in alignment with the State’s guidelines. If they have a question about their group, they can contact South Central Public Health District.”

Also, check the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s COVID-19 vaccine information page


 

 

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