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Get Your Arms Ready-Grocery Workers and Others Up for COVID Vaccine
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Grocery employees like Mark Nelson at Atkinsons Market will become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine on March 15.
 
 
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

GRAPH BY PAUL RIES

Food pantry workers, postal employees, grocery workers and bus drivers will become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, March 15--two weeks earlier than expected.

These employees and 134,000 others are in Idaho’s vaccine subgroup 2.3. They include food processing workers and agricultural workers, convenience store clerks, manufacturing workers, public transit employees, flight crews, and essential gas, electric, water and telecommunications utility workers who work indoors.

It also includes foreign language and ASL interpreters, janitorial and cleaning staff who work in tany of these sectors, any Idaho National Guard not already vaccinated and an estimated 4,600 homeless people who stay in shelters and receive meals and other services at homeless shelters.

And it’s likely the state will begin vaccinating those in group 3 come April 1. That includes 470,000 Idahoans, including those between the ages of 16 and 64 with high-risk medical conditions and other essential workers.

The ability to move to the next group so fast was made possible by an increased number of vaccine doses now coming into the state and the percentage of those 65 and older that have received at least one dose of the vaccine since they became eligible Feb. 1, said Dave Jeppesen, director of Health and Welfare.

The state will receive 13,300 doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week. That means Idaho will have 53,300 doses to get into people’s arms within the next seven days when you add the 40,000 Pfizer and Modern doses the state is receiving this week.

As of Tuesday, 47 percent of about 179,000 Idahoans 65 years of age and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Fifty-three percent of Idahoans 85 and older have received at least one dose and 51 percent of those between the ages of 75 and 84 have received at least one. Forty-four percent of those between the ages of 65 and 74 have received one shot.

Jeppesen said 59,925 first and second doses were administered in Idaho last week—the highest so far. The state received two weeks’ worth of vaccine last week due to weather delays.

While Idaho is receiving 13,300 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week as part of 4 million doses being shipped across the country, state officials do not expect to get any more for the next two weeks. They do hope to get more by the end of March as the company ramps up production.

President Biden announced a partnership between Johnson & Johnson and Merck & Co. that should help jumpstart the vaccine production. Merck had tried to develop its own vaccine but discontinued the effort after early studies showed immune responses were not robust.

Central District Health, which serves Boise, will get the most Johnson & Johnson vaccines (3,700), while Idaho North Central District, which serves Lewiston, will get the least (1,000).

The vaccine doesn’t need special refrigeration so will be perfect for mobile clinics visiting isolated areas, State Epidemiologist Christine Hahn told reporters at the weekly vaccine conference Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re very happy to have this,” she said. “Now that we have a one-dose vaccine, handling requirements are easier. Each dose represents one more person fully vaccinated, which is very exciting.”

Clinical trials of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine indicate that vaccinated people have a 74 percent reduction in asymptomatic infections two months after being vaccinated. That indicates they are less likely to transmit the virus to others.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was found to be safe and well tolerated. In fact, it offers an option for those who have been told they can’t get a second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine due to a severe allergic reaction.

“The Centers for Disease Control says wait 28 days and you can get a Johnson vaccine to be fully vaccinated,” Hahn said.

There were no hospitalizations in South Africa among those who received the Johnson vaccine even though more than 90 percent of the cases at the time it was tested were variants. It’s too soon to tell if it and the other vaccines will protect against long hauler COVID symptoms in those getting milder cases of COVID. But it’s likely that if they prevent mild cases they’re probably going to prevent long hauler symptoms, as well, Hahn said.

Jeppesen said the state plans to launch a vaccine appointment scheduling tool late this week. Vaccine providers will reach out to those who sign up to schedule appointments as soon as they have them.

Now’s the time for those 65 and older to get their shot before the next group begins clamoring for theirs on March 15, said Jeppesen. Enough seniors have secured appointments that clinics that once filled appointments in an hour are now taking two to three days to fill up.

Some parts of the state are using EMS and home health providers to take vaccines to those in who can’t get out. The state could also use the National Guard to make house calls.

VACCINATING HISPANICS

The state just began posting race and ethnicity data to its coronavirus.idaho.gov website. People aren’t required to provide information about their race and ethnicity so it won’t be totally accurate.

But already it shows that the state has vaccinated a low percentage of Hispanics. That could be the fault of less health care access and language barriers, said Hahn. But it may also be that Hispanics make up a smaller percentage of health care workers and other groups that have been vaccinated thus far.

Hispanics, for instance, make up just 5 percent of health care workers. It’s hoped the Hispanic numbers will climb as the vaccine eligibility is extended to more essential worker, said Hahn.

LOOKING AHEAD

More than 75 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have found their way into Americans’ arms. More than 40 million Americans, or 13 percent of the country, have receive at least one dose.

To date 253,411 Idahoans have received at least one dose, and 5,679 Blaine County residents have received at least one dose.

President Biden said Tuesday that the nation will have enough vaccine for every adult by the end of May.

That will likely include the Novavax vaccine, which could be authorized as early as May. Its trial suggests it is 89 percent effective. The American biotech company has agreed to supply 110 million doses of its vaccine to the United States, its CEO told CNBC this week.

The uptick in vaccines comes as Idaho’s COVID-19 situation has been improving. Only five Idaho counties are averaging more than 25 new cases per 100,000 over a week’s time. Almost half of the counties are averaging new cases in single digits.

The current statewide positivity rate is 5.1 percent. Hospitalizations are dropping, and only 113 long-term care facilities are currently dealing with a COVID outbreak compared with 215 at the peak.

Hahn said state officials have started discussing what it will take to get back to normal.

“We don’t foresee it anytime soon, but we do need to know how to prepare for it.”

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT VACCINES AND VARIANTS? Go to:

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/acip/meetings/downloads/slides-2021-02/28-03-01/07-COVID-Scobie.pdf

 

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