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Vaccination Debate Heats Up as Idaho Prepares to Launch Vaccination Dashboard
Agnes Boisvert is among the St. Luke’s employees who have received vaccines.
Thursday, January 7, 2021



A new wrinkle has been added to the debate as the Idaho COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee plans to determine who should get priority for the COVID vaccine after health care workers and nursing home residents have been vaccinated.

An 87-year-old man from Rogerson has filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Brad Little and the state’s Health and Welfare Department, seeking to force the state to put people 65 and over at the front of the line for the vaccination.

Blaine County recorded seven new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday for a total of 1,581 cases

Richard Byrd said it’s a life-and-death issue for older people because they die at much higher rates than younger people if they get COVID-19. Eighty percent—or 1,179--of the 1,471 Idahoans who have died from the virus were 70 and older.

Byrd added that denying immediate access to the vaccine is a threat to his life. And he argued that health care workers currently being vaccinated tend to be younger and healthier and more likely to survive COVID-19.

“While I don’t begrudge those people a vaccination, why are they more deserving than me?” he said in the lawsuit.

Gov. Brad Little told reporters Tuesday that he hopes the state can finish vaccinating 130,000 health care workers and nursing home residents by the end of January.

Idaho recorded 1,263 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday for a total of 146,106 cases since March. Seventeen more Idahoans have died of COVID for a total of 1,488 deaths.

Those 75 and older are expected to be among the next wave of Idahoans to be vaccinated, along with people who have been deemed essential workers, such as teachers and grocery store clerks. This group numbers about 330,000 Idahoans and health officials currently expect them to begin receiving vaccines in February if available.

The third group, which includes people 65 and older and those over 16 who have medical conditions that put them at increased risk, number 500,000 of Idaho’s 1.79 million people. They are expected to begin getting vaccinated in April. The state hopes to begin vaccinating the remainder of Idahoans by May.

But the Vaccine Committee could decide to push those 65 and older into the second wave when it meets from noon to 2 p.m. Friday--the public can listen in at https://idhw.webex.com/idhw/onstage/g.php?MTID=eb366c50ecc1b8bf31fd946c935ee1129

Those participating in an AARP call with the governor on Tuesday objected strongly to current guidelines, claiming that those 65 and older should be next in line since they’re the ones who are disproportionately dying of COVID. Those 65 and older count for only 14 percent of reported COVID cases but they comprise 81 percent of COVID deaths.

Little told listeners that essential workers have been targeted because they’re more likely to spread the virus.

“We’re looking at every single option out there,” he added. “Our goal is to safely, quickly and fairly distribute the vaccine into the arms of people predicated on the priorities that the vaccine advisory committee have established.”

Dr. Christine Hahn, Idaho’s epidemiologist, noted that health officials have had many conversations dating back to July about how to save the most lives and how to keep the economy going.

“And I know we will have intense discussions Friday about whether we should follow the Centers for Disease Control’s path or whether the committee feels it needs to go a different way,” she added.

Dave Jeppesen, Idaho’s director of Health and Welfare, said that the state is trying to manage a limited supply of vaccine between the state’s most vulnerable populations and those most likely to be spreading the disease. And, he said, the state has not received the number of vaccine doses it had been promised.

The state dispensed its first vaccination on Dec. 14, 2020—exactly nine months after the first case of coronavirus was reported in Idaho. It has administered 22,822 doses so far.

It has received just over 83,000 doses so far, with 13,650 of them designed to be used as second doses. The state has been told it can expect to receive 20,000 doses per week going forward.

That means just over a half-million Idahoans will have the opportunity to be vaccinated by the end of the year since the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses. The state needs at least 1.43 million of its 1.79 residents to be vaccinated to tamp down the spread, according to scientists’ current best estimates that at least 80 percent need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

1.35 million Idahoans would need to be vaccinated to reach 75 percent.

“We certainly did indicate that we’d like to see that 20,000 number increased,” said Sarah Leeds, director of Idaho’s Immunization Program. “Of course, all of the states are doing the same.”

“Our hope is that production ramps up more quickly than expected of existing vaccines,” Jeppesen added. “We are also expecting additional vaccines to be approved: Astra and Johnson & Johnson.”

Jeppesen said Idahoans will be able to get vaccinated at the same places they would go to get flu and other vaccines—physicians’ offices, pharmacies and the local public health district. But it's more likely that vaccine clinics will be set up due to the complexities of dispensing these particular vaccines. Providers dispensing the vaccines are encouraged to abide by the state’s distribution plan. But Public Health Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch acknowledged that some school staff have received vaccines ahead of schedule.

“We can’t police every single provider that’s out there giving the vaccine. We are educating and doing our best to make sure we are staying consistent,” she said. “There are going to be some bumps in the road absolutely as this is rolled out because no one has done this.”

Wasted vaccines has been “very minimal” at this point, said Leeds. “And we consider that a huge success.”

Hahn said the state does not know how many health care providers are declining to get the vaccine, although the state is asking for that information.

“We talk to our health care providers daily. We’re hearing that providers who originally said they would not take vaccine are seeing co-workers take the vaccine and get minimal side effects. So, they’re changing mind and getting the vaccine,” said Leeds.

 Hahn said health officials know they will never get 100 percent of the people to get the vaccine, but they don’t think they need 100 percent.

“What is herd immunity has not been established, particularly now with this more potentially contagious strain. A month ago, we were thinking maybe 60, 70 percent. Now what we’re hearing, depending on how truly more infectious this strain is, we might be needing to get towards 80 or 85 percent to achieve herd immunity.”


The state is about to launch a Vaccination Dashboard this week that will show the number of vaccines being administered, the number of second doses administered and other information down to the county level. There is up to a 72-hour delay after shots are given before they are included in state data.

Idaho has also purchased a software tool called PrepMod to help people find a vaccination clinic and sign up to receive a vaccination when it’s their turn.


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