Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Low Vaccination Rate Means COVID Could Become Permanent Fixture in Gem State
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Despite the efforts of St. Luke’s mobile vaccine unit, Idaho is doing poorly at getting vaccine in people’s arms. Is a million-dollar lottery reward needed?
   
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Although vaccinations have helped Idaho move from Stage 3 to Stage 4 of its COVID plan, Idaho is at the bottom when it comes to getting its residents vaccinated.

More than 623,000 Idahoans have had at least one shot of vaccine That includes 74 percent of those over age 65, Idaho Director of Health and Welfare Dave Jeppesen told reporters at the state’s periodic COVID briefing.

But Idaho lags other states in the percentage of population with at least one dose. Only four states—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wyoming--have less of their population vaccinated.

Idaho officials, who complained the state couldn’t get enough vaccine in December and January, have  seen weekly vaccinations fall 55 percent since early April. And the state turned down 75 percent of its 88,000-dose weekly COVID-19 vaccine allotment last week because there’s no demand.

“We have missed our opportunity as a nation and as a world to totally gain control of and eliminate this virus,” Dr. Ted Epperly, a Central District Health board member recently told the Idaho Statesman. “It will be with us and around us ongoing, permanently.”

The move into stage four removes the cap on the 50 people formerly permitted at an event.  And the Nampa City Council immediately gave Ford Idaho Center, which can hold up to 12,000 people indoors, permission to fully reopen.

“I say open it up, let people make those decisions,” one council member said, according to The Statesman. “People are going to get sick, people die, these things just happen in life and we have to accept it.”

Jeppesen said vaccinations allowed Idaho to move into Stage 4.

 “Vaccines are the best way we have to keep virus under control, fuel the economy and ensure kids can go back to school in the fall,” he added.

The state is averaging fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents a week—the lowest Idaho has seen in some time, Jeppesen said. The test positivity rate has been below 5 percent four weeks in a row. Only 30 of 400 long-term care facilities are dealing with outbreaks.

And there’s a downward trend in hospitalizations. Eighty-three percent of Idaho hospitals are operating as normal, and no hospitals are stretched beyond capacity. There were 82 patients hospitalized this past week—33 of them in intensive care. That compares with a peak of 500 hospitalizations in December.

Hospitals will be the bellwether of whether the state needs to take action down the road, said Jeppesen.

Although restrictions have been lifted, Jeppesen said health officials are still recommending the use of safety protocols at large gatherings.

SACRIFICING DOSES

Health officials are asking private physicians and other providers to offer vaccine to patients during appointments even if opening a vial may mean wasting vaccine at the end of the day, said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, the state’s public health administrator.

So far, 5,808 doses have been wasted—less than 1 percent of those administered, said Sarah Leeds, who is in charge of the state’s immunization program.

“But we do expect that to go up as we ask providers to shift their mindset,” she added. “We want every person who chooses to get a vaccine to get vaccine.”

Leeds said providers throughout the country have asked manufacturers to reduce the number of doses  per vial from their current capacity of 10 to 14 doses per vial.

“We hope the manufacturers will respond. Single doses in vials would be incredible,” she added.

Leeds said that Pfizer plans to make fewer vials per tray this summer. That means providers will likely get about 25 vials per tray versus 200, which will be easier to handle now that demand is dwindling.

YOUTH POSE CONCERN

One area of concern is the 16- and 17-year-olds, said State Epidemiologist Christine Hahn.

“Only 15 percent of those have been vaccinated so we have a long way to go,” she said. “They are at lower rate of severe disease or death but they still can have severe disease or even die.”

The vaccine has proven incredibly effective in teenagers, she added. During trial there were no cases of virus among those who were vaccinated, while there were 18 cases in the placebo group.

Leed said health officials are befuddled about why some people have chosen not to get the vaccine.

“What is it that those folks are waiting for? Is it time and additional safety data? Is it waiting to see how their friends are reacting?”

 

 

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