1st group for Idaho vaccinations should be done this month

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Sebastian Scheiner

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Coronavirus vaccinations for 130,000 frontline health care workers and long-term care residents should be finished by the end of January, Idaho Gov. Brad Little said Tuesday.

The Republican governor said that the timeline for the first round of vaccinations in the state depends on Idaho continuing to receive the vaccine from the federal government. He also said it’s not clear what percentage of people in the first group will opt to get vaccinated.

Through Monday, more than 20,000 doses had been administered of the two-shot vaccine. Little’s objective is to distribute the vaccine’s limited supply to preserve health care capacity and protect the most vulnerable.

About 143,000 Idaho residents have been infected and 1,459 have died, according to state officials.

Little took part in two coronavirus-related events Tuesday, starting with an AARP call-in program at noon and then delivering opening remarks before a news conference with health officials several hours later.

“Believe me, we want to get vaccines in arms and get through this pandemic as fast as possible,” Little said during the AARP program.

Idaho can expect to receive 20,000 vaccinations per week going forward, along with another 20,000 doses held in reserve for the second shot of the two-shot vaccine, health officials said during the news conference.

That adds up to about a million people being vaccinated for 2021. Idaho has about 1.8 million residents, though current vaccinations aren’t available for children under 16. Still, Idaho’s proposed timeline for vaccinating various groups could be problematic at only 20,000 doses a week.

“It’s a lower amount that we were anticipating,” said Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen.

He said that state officials hope production of the existing vaccines ramps up, and that the state expects additional companies to get their vaccines approved by federal authorities. It’s not clear when that might happen.

“We anticipate that that will greatly increase our allocation,” he said. “Do we wish it was more? Yes. Do we have conversations with our federal partners about that? Absolutely. But that’s where we are at this point.”

The second Idaho group, which numbers about 330,000, is expected to start receiving vaccinations in February.

That group is comprised of essential workers and adults 75 and over. Experts say older adults are more susceptible to death or serious illness from COVID-19.

However, the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee must first make the recommendation to the governor on who is in the second group. The committee is meeting on Friday.

Essential workers in the category include firefighters, police, school teachers, members of the Idaho National Guard, as well as workers in prisons, food processing, and grocery and convenience stores.

The third group, numbering about 500,000, is expected to start getting vaccinated in April if the timeline holds. This group is comprised of people 65 and older and people age 16 to 64 who have medical conditions that put them at increased risk if they contract the virus.

During the AARP call, some questioned essential workers in the second group getting vaccinated ahead of people older than 65 in the third group. Health officials said that’s being looked at.

The final group is simply defined as the general public. Vaccinations for that group are expected to begin in May, if doses are available.

State health officials noted that the timeline is based on the most current information and could change based on various factors, including not enough vaccine or people choosing not to get the vaccine in significant numbers.

Another factor is a new strain of the virus that experts say is spread more easily.

State epidemiologist Christine Hahn said the less contagious strain required about 60% to 70% of the population to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. But the new strain, which health officials said hadn’t yet been detected in Idaho, could require up to 85% of the population get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.