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Idaho seniors tell governor they're frustrated with process for scheduling COVID-19 vaccinations

Gov. Brad Little took several calls from people 80 and older who say they've been unable to schedule an appointment to get the vaccine.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little fielded several questions Tuesday about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout from a very frustrated group of Idahoans -- those who are 65 and older and are in need of a vaccine -- but can't get an appointment.

The governor got an earful from elderly Idahoans during an AARP telephone town hall where he and Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen answered questions from people across the Gem State.

Little says the state is rolling out the vaccine to Idaho's seniors faster than expected. He said about 31 percent of Idahoans who are 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. That is ahead of the schedule.

However, that means about 70 percent of older Idahoans are still waiting to get the vaccine.

One Idaho Falls woman told the governor she is 80 years old and has had cancer for the last 13 years. She was told she would be first in line for the vaccine but hasn't been able to get an appointment, despite signing up at three different clinics.

She says nobody has contacted her. And now, she sees that hundreds of thousands of Idahoans have gotten their vaccine before her.

She wanted to know what gives and when can she get the vaccine?

"We have got almost a third of a million people in this age group, plus we are doing vaccines to the healthcare workers and the teachers and some of the other groups," Little said. "So, you can imagine at 30,000 new doses a week and I have 300,000 people I need to vaccinate, you can imagine what the problem is. If you have a primary care doctor, oncologist, I would continue to visit with them because you should be at the top of the list, but there is a lot of people at the top of the list, so don't give up. 

"I wish I could give everybody who is asking a vaccine tomorrow, but it is just a matter of the numbers. We are going to have more vaccine within 20 days we hope, but everybody is going to have to be a little patient as we get this out because I can't just instantaneously vaccinate a third of a million people on only 30,000 doses a week."

Little said he is hopeful the state can triple or even quadruple the vaccines coming into Idaho within the next month or so.

He also said the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is expected to dramatically increase the amount of doses coming to Idaho.

Johnson and Johnson sent their vaccine to the FDA for emergency authorization earlier this month. If approved, it could be available in early March.

It isn't quite as effective as Pfizer or Moderna, but it is a one-shot vaccine, unlike the other two. And because it doesn't need ultra-cold storage, the governor says this vaccine is easier to distribute, which will help get shots to rural Idahoans.

"When that gets approved by the FDA, there will be literally tens of millions more doses that will be available nationwide and the beauty of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, as most of you know, is it's a one-shot vaccine, so it is more scalable out to rural Idaho," Little said.

More doses heading to Idaho pharmacies

Right now, Idaho is getting about 30,000 first doses per week. And about 5,000 of those doses are now going to Idaho pharmacies.

These doses are coming to the pharmacies through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program. Albertsons and Walmart are the only ones participating in this program in Idaho right now.

Elke Shaw-Tulloch, the Public Health Administrator for Health and Welfare said those pharmacies got their first shipment of vaccine last Thursday, and she was promised that more is coming.

“It was confirmed that we will continue to receive that same amount of vaccine if not more," Shaw-Tulloch said, "so it was framed to us that we will always get the same or more, but never less, so we are expecting that we will get at least 5,000 doses a week."

The first shipment went to 29 Albertsons stories in Ada, Canyon, Kootenai and Bonneville counties. And ten Walmarts in Canyon, Twin Falls, Shoshone Minidoka, Madison and Latah counties, also got part of last week's shipment.

Idaho to get more notice on vaccine supply

The number of Idahoans who've received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine now exceeds the number of those who have been infected with the virus, but many people who are eligible for the vaccine now haven't been able to secure an appointment.

During a vaccine advisory media briefing Tuesday, we asked Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen about the frustration and what the state was doing about it.

“To date we have only been able to get a weeks worth of vaccine," he said. "How much is coming in the next week, which really means that providers can only schedule one week at a time, and that causes people to have to come back to those websites or phone lines over and over to see if there is an appointment available. Moving forward, the federal partners are going to be providing us three weeks worth of vaccine distribution information."

Jeppesen says as that information comes in, it will be shared with public health districts and vaccine providers and it should allow them to start scheduling appointments three weeks out instead of one. He says he's confident that this will help speed up the vaccination process for the 65 years and older.

According to the state's coronavirus website, 181,715 Idahoans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Total doses administered in the state now stands at 241,569.  And 59,854 people have received both doses.

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