Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Idaho Lifts Residency Vaccine Requirements, Sees New Variants
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This little guy better keep his mask to protect against dirt clods and COVID particles. But fully vaccinated adults can take off their masks while dining outdoors.
   
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
 

STORY BY KAREN BOSSICK

GRAPHS BY PAUL RIES

Idaho will no longer require those seeking a COVID vaccine to reside or work in the Gem State.

Vaccines will be made available to anyone over 16 who wants one, including undocumented workers and those who might be visiting from another state or foreign country, Idaho Health and Welfare director Dave Jeppesen said Tuesday afternoon at the state’s weekly COVID briefing.

 
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Blaine has reported eight new cases since Friday for a total of 2,357 since the pandemic began.
 

The requirement was put in place at a time when demand far outstripped the supply. Now our main motivation is to remove barriers between providers and patients to make it as convenient and easy as possible to get vaccinated. This is particularly true in border towns across from Washington, Jeppesen said.

Idaho saw a drop in demand for vaccine last week for the second straight week. It was expected because those scheduled for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had their appointments cancelled during the pause the government enacted to examine its safety in light of six women reporting blood clots after getting the vaccine.

But the state also saw a drop in demand for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, possibly because people had a wait-and-see attitude following the pause, said Public Health Administrator Elke Tulloch-Shaw.

Idaho announced on Monday that the Janssen vaccine would be given the green light to be put back into play after CDC investigators determined the risk of adverse side effects was extremely low and the benefits of the vaccine in saving lives from COVID-19 far outweighed those risks. There have been 15 cases of thrombosis out of nearly 8 million doses administered.

 
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Idaho reported 289 new cases of coronavirus on Monday for a total of 187,014 since the pandemic began. But it’s averaged 404 cases a day since Thursday with 2,021 new cases. Twelve Idahoans have lost their lives to COVID in the past five days.
 

“We’re very happy to have this tool,” said State Epidemiologist Christine Hahn. “The vaccine has been very well accepted by providers and recipients because it’s one dose. Those Idahoans who have experienced side effects have had no more than mild reactions.”

Hahn and others said they have heard no feedback from Idahoans who say they no longer want the vaccine. But they have heard from providers who are anxious to begin administering it again. A nationwide survey showed that most people have not had their confidence shaken in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of the pause.

Each community should make sure they’re providing vaccine choices so people don’t have to travel extensively to get the vaccine they want, said Hahn. And pharmacies and other providers should be transparent about the vaccines they offer, providing signage and information sheets on each vaccine that people can read to help them choose the vaccine they think is best suited for them.

A 16- or 17-year-old can only get the Pfizer vaccine right now so communities should ensure they have  that vaccine available for parents wanting it for their children, Hahn said.

We’re vaccinating to protect people from a serious disease,” she added. 

THE GREAT UNMASKING

 The vaccine briefing came just hours after the Centers for Disease Control said that it’s okay for fully vaccinated Americans to go maskless outdoors unless they’re in a big crowd of strangers, such as a concert or sporting event. Fewer than 10 percent of documented transmissions have occurred outdoors.

The CDC recommends that unvaccinated people, however, continue to wear masks at outdoor gatherings that include other unvaccinated people. Everyone should continue to mask up in indoor public places, such as hair salons, restaurant, shopping centers, museums and movie theaters, the CDC recommended. Unvaccinated people continue to be a danger to themselves and others, one health official said.

Adding to the good news for fully vaccinated Americans is that they will likely be able to visit Europe this summer, according to the president of the European Commission.

“It’s the return of us being able to do normal activities again. We’re not there yet, but we’re on the exit ramp. And that’s a beautiful thing.” University of Alabama Infectious disease expert Dr. Mike Saag told the Associated Press.

More than half of American adults have gotten at least one dose of vaccine; more than a third have been fully vaccinated.

Eighty percent of those 65 and over have gotten at least one dose of vaccine, with 67 percent fully vaccinated. Vaccinations have cut deaths among seniors by 80 percent and hospitalizations by 70 percent, President Biden said Tuesday.

Thirty-one percent of those 64 and younger have gotten a vaccine.

In Idaho a third of Idahoans--594,776 adults-- have received at least one dose of vaccine and 465,462 are fully vaccinated. At least 72.3 percent of those 65 and older have had at least one dose of vaccine. Of those 16 and older 33.2 percent have been fully vaccinated.

In Blaine County 73 percent of those 16 and older have been vaccinated.

A NEW VARIANT IN IDAHO?

The state is working with the Central District Health to verify a report of the state’s first Brazilian variant, said Dr. Kathryn Turner. This week sequencing also identified three cases of the variant first identified in New York.

And health officials are closely watching for the B.1.617 variant first detected in India last winter, which has now been detected in the United State in Canada and 18 other countries. It may be contributing to the surge of cases that’s overwhelming India, she said.

Idaho has identified 215 cases of COVID-19 variants among residents in 17 counties, including Blaine County. Seventy-five percent of those are the U.K. variant and 20 percent are California variants. Two cases of the South African variant were identified a few weeks ago but none since.

There have been 190 breakthrough cases--fewer than a half percent of fully vaccinated Idahoans. They range in age from 18 to over 100 years of age; the average age is 58.

Forty percent reported no symptoms. Sixty percent of those have reported symptoms—mostly mild cold and flu-like symptoms. Two persons considered high-risk were hospitalized. One person died from a breakthrough case this past week—a reminder of how bad COVID is, Turner said.

Ninety percent of all of Idaho’s breakthrough cases involve females, which is significantly higher than the national average of 65 percent. Idaho has vaccinated more females so it would make sense that there are more breakthrough cases in females, said Turner.

“We don’t have any evidence that the vaccine fails more frequently in females than males,” added Hahn. “We know females are more likely to check on symptoms so maybe men are more apt to say, ‘I’m vaccinated. I’m sure it’s not COVID.’ ”

VETERAN HESITANCY?

Just one in four veterans contacted by the Spokane VA to get a vaccine have said “Yes.” And the Spokane VA’s mobile outreach across Northern Idaho into Montana hasn’t fared much better, according to a recent story in the Washington Post. One veteran quoted in the story said getting a vaccine was his patriotic duty: “I’m a veteran. Duty is what it’s about.” But others cited erroneous fears of microchips or simply said they didn’t like being told what to do.

The Boise Veterans Administration has administered at least one shot of Pfizer or Moderna to 15,665 veterans, including 881 doses of the Janssen vaccine. Nationwide 2.247 million vets have been vaccinated.

Any efforts to increase vaccination among Idaho veterans would be folded into age-related and other demographic-targeted vaccine promotion, according to Niki Forbing-Orr, public information officer for Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

More than a quarter million vets have been diagnosed with COVID since the pandemic began and at least 11,721 have lost their lives to it.

REACHING THE PEOPLE

The state is making $9 million available on a first-come first-serve basis to those who want to use mobile clinics or pop-up clinics to reach people in harder-to-reach areas, said Shaw-Tulloch.

It’s also seeking to find ways to address counties with high hesitancy rates, such as Elmore County, which has a 27.5 percent hesitancy despite being a current COVID hot spot.

Some are already using Meals on Wheels models to go door to door. Some farmers and churches are having mobile clinics come to them.

Locally, the Hispanic community is working with St. Luke’s to take a mobile clinic to Balmoral, The Meadows, Wood River YMCA and The Hunger Coalition the week of May 10, said Herbert Romero.

VACCINES FOR YOUNGSTERS

Pfizer could have emergency authorization for 12- to 15-year-olds by mid-May, which would help the state move towards its goal of having 80 percent of Idahoans vaccinated by September when school reopens, said Hahn.

Eighty percent is the current best estimate for the population achieving herd immunity, which would help tamp down the virus, Hahn said.

Of course, that will be harder since the U.S. Census just out shows that Idaho’s population is now 1.839,106, a 17.3 percent increase from its former 1.79 million people. That makes it the second fastest growing state in the nation behind Utah.

 

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