BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) held a virtual briefing on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
During the meeting, IDHW Director Dave Jeppesen announced subgroup 2.3 will become eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning March 15. As many as 134,000 Idahoans will become eligible to receive the vaccine.
Those eligible includes:
- Food and agricultural workers
- Food processing workers, including USDA processing plant inspectors
- Grocery, convenience store, and food pantry workers
- Manufacturing workers
- Public transit workers
- U.S. Postal Services workers
- Flight crews
- Subset of essential gas, electric, water, and telecommunications utility workers, who work indoors
Other people eligible in subgroup 2.3
- Idaho National Guard (if not included in previous subgroups)
- Residents of homeless shelters
- Interpreters (ASL or other language)
- Janitorial and cleaning staff who work within any of these sectors or settings (including above.)
Idaho State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn and Idaho Immunization Program manager Sarah Leeds were also present and offered remarks and updates on the statewide vaccination efforts.
Idaho is currently in the process of vaccinating individuals 65 years of age or older and frontline essential workers, such as first responders and teachers.
An estimated 46% of those 65 or older have received the first dose of the vaccine since Feb. 1, according to Central District Health (CDH).
"It tells me the vaccine we’re distributing is getting into the arms of the people who need the vaccine," CDH Director Russ Duke said Monday. "The highest risk group for sure."
Overall, the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine has improved significantly since the state first started and since Idahoans 65 and older became eligible at the beginning of February.
The state is also set to receive 13,300 doses of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to a spokesperson with the IDHW.
While the state is receiving the shipment this week, health districts are not expected to get anymore in the next two weeks. While the state was informed of this by the federal government, it could change if production companies are able to increase supply.
IDHW has heard from many frustrated Idahoans trying to make an appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The limited availability has created a situation where people have to continuously call or go online to try and schedule an appointment with a vaccine provider.
However, the state is currently working to create a statewide scheduling tool for COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
"I understand the frustration with the current system of finding an appointment. The HW teams are working on a statewide vaccine pre-registration solution," Jeppesen said. "The main objective of this pre-registration solution is to give Idahoans one place to go that they are interested in getting vaccinated."
Once the scheduling website becomes available, Idahoans will be able to register or pre-register for a vaccination appointment. Basic information, such as medical history and preferred provider, will be collected during registration. When vaccine doses become available, providers will contact the individual directly.
The new online tool is expected to be available by the end of the week.
For those without access to a computer or internet, employees at local health districts can enter information into the scheduling system on behalf of the individual. Call your local health district for more information.
The state's COVID-19 situation continues to improve. The most recent positivity rate is listed as 5.1%, according to Jeppesen. Hospitalizations and cases in long-term care facilities continue to drop as well, with about 113 facilities across the state facing a current outbreak. Previously, over 215 had outbreaks.
Only five counties in Idaho have a current incident rate of over 25 and nearly half of the state's counties have an incident rate in the single digits, according to Little.
While the condition is improving and states like Texas are beginning to lift COVID-19 restrictions, Idaho does not anticipate restrictions will be lifted anytime soon. The state will develop metrics concerning when they will be ready to do so once vaccination levels and immunity determine it is safe to lift restrictions, according to Hahn.
"I don't think we foresee that as any time real soon, but we do need to start planning for it," she said.
Idaho health officials also discussed the new vaccine demographics being tracked by the state. New data includes age, race, and ethnicity breakdowns of Idahoans who have received the vaccine.
The data published is incomplete because people getting the vaccine are not required to give that info. Because of this, there are concerns about vaccine equity in some communities going forward due to language barriers or access to technology.
Out of the vaccine eligible pool, there are simply some smaller populations, according to Hahn.
IDHW is tracking vaccine equity, as they feel it is important to make sure the virus doesn't continue to spread within communities. The state has strategies to address issues of vaccine equity.
"Provide encouragement, for example, for using mobile clinics for trying to help support," Hahn said. "We are getting funding to help support things like mass clinics or clinics that can get out to where people live and get into their communities. I think as we move forward that's going to become more and more important part of our strategy and our role."
Health and Welfare will be keeping a close eye on data as more Idahoans get the vaccine.
The meeting will be available on KTVB.COM and the KTVB YouTube page. To watch the briefing, click below: