Idaho preparing for next stage of vaccinations

Elaine Williams, Lewiston Tribune, Idaho
·3 min read

Mar. 3—Manufacturing employees are in the group of people who will be eligible for coronavirus vaccinations in north central Idaho and other parts of the state starting March 15.

Factory workers represent a high percentage of the adults in Nez Perce County, where Vista Outdoor, Clearwater Paper and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories employ more than 3,000 people.

Others in the group include grocery store, convenience store and food pantry workers; members of the Idaho National Guard; some utility employees who work indoors; public transit workers; flight crews; and postal employees.

Idaho is choosing to move to the next stage of its vaccination plan for a number of reasons, said Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen in a Tuesday media briefing.

One is an expectation that the recently approved Johnson & Johnson immunization should increase the number of shots available in the state, he said.

Presently Idaho is receiving about 40,000 first doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines each week.

Both of those require two doses before individuals are considered fully immunized against the coronavirus.

Only a single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine is needed to protect people from the illness.

The state expects it will begin receiving about 15,000 of the Johnson & Johnson shots each week starting later this month, bringing weekly totals to 55,000 after getting a shipment of about 13,300 this week, according to state public health officials.

"There's a lot of excitement now that we have a one-dose vaccine and the handling requirements are much easier because it can be stored in refrigerator-type temperatures up to three months," said Dr. Christine Hahn, Idaho state epidemiologist.

"We are very happy to have this and I think this is going to really help," she said. "Each dose represents one more person fully vaccinated."

So far about 250,000 people in Idaho have gotten shots, with 16,401 of them in north central Idaho, according to a state website that was updated Tuesday.

Health care workers and nursing home residents were among the first to get vaccines, followed by first responders and teachers in pre-kindergarten through senior high schools.

Seniors 65 and older are in the present group, and 47 percent of them who reside in Idaho have had at least one dose, Jeppesen said.

At the same time, the state is hoping to make it easier to schedule a vaccine appointment by introducing a website tool later this week, he said.

Users will enter their name and a few other details about themselves. Once they're on the list, vaccine providers will contact them when they are eligible and an appointment is available.

Vaccine providers will still be able to schedule appointments separate from the tool.

"The limited supply of vaccine has led to limited appointment availability," Jeppesen said. "This has created a situation where individuals are making many attempts, sometimes daily, to schedule an appointment, which has led to overwhelmed phone lines and websites and resulted in frustration for many."

More federal money coming into the state is also anticipated to help efforts to deploy the vaccine.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced Tuesday the state had been awarded $39 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that will be funneled through the Idaho Office of Emergency Management to assist with the costs of vaccinations.

The funds would not have been available without Little's active emergency designation, according to a news release from the governor's office.

In other coronavirus news, no new deaths were reported in the region Tuesday. Whitman County had the highest number of new cases Tuesday with seven.

Elsewhere in Washington, Asotin County had two new instances of the illness and Garfield County didn't have any.

In Idaho, Latah County had five new infections Tuesday while Nez Perce County had three and Clearwater County had one. Idaho and Lewis counties didn't have any.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.