IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Vaccine providers in Idaho rejected more than 60,000 vaccine doses and accepted only 22,000 this week, state officials revealed Tuesday at a news conference.
With almost five weeks of vaccine supply on hand — about 372,000 doses — the decisions are the latest effect of steep declines in vaccine uptake from Idahoans.
Meanwhile, state officials moved Idaho into Stage 4, the most permissive phase of the state’s four-step reopening plan. The move loosens mostly non-binding pandemic safety guidelines while new infections and hospitalizations decline. New guidelines say any number of people can gather so long as people social distance and maintain hygiene. Masks are still required in Idaho long-term care facilities, where outbreaks have declined to record lows.
“Idaho has been open for business for months, which has resulted in Idaho having the strongest economy of all 50 states. Moving to Stage 4 means that Idaho will remain open for business,” Idaho Department of Health & Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen told reporters.
Gov. Brad Little did not speak at the news conference. He offered similar remarks in a news release.
“Thanks to the actions of Idahoans in protecting their neighbors and getting the COVID-19 vaccine, Idaho’s schools and businesses have stayed open longer than almost every other state and we have prevented a crisis in our health care system. The move to Stage 4 signals to Idahoans that we have been open, and we will stay open, and we must keep up the good work,” Little said.
The Associated Press reported that federal vaccine stockpiles have grown recently while states reject “staggering amounts of COVID-19 vaccine amid plummeting demand.” Iowa, for instance, turned down about three-quarters of vaccine doses offered by the federal government this week, KCCI Des Moines reported.
Last week, President Joe Biden announced that his administration would funnel rejected doses to states that need them more, according to Reuters.
Although declining vaccine uptake has been seen across the United States, Idaho significantly trails the nation’s vaccination rates.
About 45% of Idahoans age 16 and up — who are all eligible for shots — have received at least one dose, while almost 59% of all American adults have received at least one dose. That’s according to tracking by the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sarah Leeds, who oversees Idaho’s immunization program, said providers rejected three-quarters of their allotted vaccines because “they have enough supply on hand to meet demand.” Leeds said medical staff administering vaccine hear that people wary of shots are taking a wait-and-see approach. She said the state hopes to drill down on what they’re waiting for, and how they can be convinced, by leveraging more surveys.
“Is it just additional safety data? Just seeing how their friends react to the vaccine? There’s just a lot of different things at play,” Leeds said.
Wasted vaccine doses are minimal so far, Leeds said, accounting for less than 1% of all shots Idaho has received. But as demand dwindles, Leeds said state officials are instructing vaccine providers to worry less about waste and more about getting shots into people’s arms.
The state doesn’t want random waste, Leeds said, but “if there’s one person in your office in two or three days that wants the vaccine, please puncture the vial, administer that dose and if the rest of the doses in that vial (have) to be wasted, we’re expecting that. CDC is expecting that,” Leeds said. “And we want every person who wants a vaccine to get that vaccine. That’s just where we are in this effort right now.”
Lees added that health officials hope vaccines will be available in smaller vials to reduce waste.
Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.
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