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Viewpoint: Idaho's State Immunization Program Manager discusses efforts to ramp up vaccine rollout

More and more Idahoans are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 every day, but the pace of the rollout is slower than expected.

BOISE, Idaho — More and more Idahoans are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 every day, but the pace of the rollout is slower than expected.

As of Friday, 82,475  total vaccine doses have been administered. 68,627 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Of those, 13,732 have received both doses.

For Sunday's Viewpoint, Doug Petcash talked with Idaho's Immunization Program Manager Sarah Leeds about the pace of distribution and efforts to ramp it up.

Below are excerpts from the interview:

Sarah Leeds: I like everyone else would love for it to be going even faster, but I think it's going at a very good pace. It's not unlike a soft opening for a business. All the providers, this is a new vaccine, and every time a new provider gets the vaccine, as we get more vaccine into the state they have to learn the storage and handling, get a feel for what the vaccine looks like, the shipping containers, so there's a little bit of a learning curve.

Doug Petcash: Is Idaho getting the number of doses that you originally expected to be getting by this time from the federal government?

Sarah Leeds: Looking backward as we planned with CDC in the early fall and even into early November, we were expecting more doses. At one point in time we were told our first initial dose would be 60,000 just of the Pfizer vaccine, and that quickly changed as time went on. So the week before Pfizer was approved for and EUA (Emergency Use Authorization) the number of doses we were getting into the state went significantly down. We've had to adjust for that. It's been a challenge because our doses, as you said, we are getting just under 21,000 doses per week and that cadence has been fairly regular.

Doug Petcash: What is being done here in the state to ramp up the distribution going forward? The governor took a couple of steps last week.

Sarah Leeds: The governor has made available grants for providers who administer vaccines and comply with the reporting requirements into the Idaho immunization information system, which is what they agree to when they enroll as a COVID-19 provider. They have a time limit. They have 72 hours to get those doses from the patients' records into the Idaho immunization information system. So there are grants available for providers to do that for every dose they administer to enhance their capability. Hopefully, this can help cover them bringing on additional staff, perhaps purchasing additional storage and handling equipment. So anything they need, these grants are intended to help support that.

Doug Petcash: President Biden signed nearly a dozen executive orders to ramp up vaccinations, expand testing and safely reopen schools. What are your expectations or hopes on how that could help speed up the process, too?

Sarah Leeds: I'm excited to hear how this may impact all the states, but especially Idaho. We are hoping that additional doses become available. We do not have any guidance yet or information yet about what that might look like, but we are working with our providers and our public health districts to be prepared with the hope that additional doses come to Idaho every week or every month, that we can stand up mass vaccination clinics and really begin efficiently and safely administering vaccines at a much bigger scale.

Vaccinations started weeks ago with health care workers. Now new groups have been added, including teachers, frontline essential workers such as first responders, and correctional facility staff. All Idahoans 65 and older are expected to be able to start getting vaccinated in early February.

The state is also hoping to launch a new website soon that will make it easier for people to schedule a COVID-19 vaccination appointment. They say they're still working on making the site more user friendly, but it's expected to be up at the end of January or the beginning of February.

Viewpoint airs Sunday mornings at 6:30 on KTVB. It also airs several times after that on 24/7 with the first airing at 9 a.m.

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