By Lyndsie Kiebert
It’s been a year since North Idahoans began to hear concerns of a novel coronavirus causing widespread sickness and necessitating lockdowns — concerns that became a reality Americans and people all over the world are still navigating today.
The narrative surrounding COVID-19 went from how people could protect themselves to where they could receive a test for the virus. Now, people are focused on what many believe is the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to getting past this deadly disease: how and when to receive a vaccine.
The two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have begun to roll out across the country, including in Idaho, as the state reported 85,731 people had received at least one dose of the vaccine as of Jan. 27, and 16,843 people had received both doses and are considered fully vaccinated against the virus. In Bonner County, 2,182 people have received the first dose of the vaccine, and 183 have received both doses.
Statewide, new COVID-19 cases numbered 620 on Jan. 27, bringing Idaho’s total since March 2020 to 161,212 and 1,714 deaths. Bonner County has logged 2,618 cases to date, with 699 currently active and 27 resulting in death.
Bonner General Health shared in a press release Jan. 27 that Idaho is currently receiving about 21,000 doses of the vaccine per week, with about 2,800 of those being allocated to the Panhandle Health District, which manages the five most northern counties in the state. Of those doses, BGH is receiving about 200 each week.
BGH announced that it would be expanding vaccine clinic hours to Monday through Friday 9 a.m.-3 p.m., with each vaccination requiring an appointment.
Providers are working on vaccinating groups included under the state’s 1a and 1b phases, which includes health care personnel; long-term care staff and residents; some home care providers; EMS and first responders; dental providers; pharmacy personnel; safety services; pre-K-12 educational staff; child care workers; and correctional and detention facility staff. Idahoans over the age of 65 are also considered to be in the 1b category, though Feb. 1 is the official date the state has set for that population — some 269,000 people — to start receiving their doses.
BGH shared that there are currently more than 4,400 people on the hospital’s vaccine registration list, with 3,000 of those being people over the age of 65.
“We will not be accepting any new >65 years registrations until we have made it partially through the 3,000+ we already have in our system,” BGH officials stated. “Please note this is not an issue of staffing at Bonner General Health. This is an issue of national supply allocation of the vaccine. As soon as we receive more vaccine allocation, we will re-open registration for the 65+ category and additional 1b categories.”
As of Jan. 26, BGH reported having vaccinated 1,300 people, 172 of whom have received a second dose.
“Our goal, as always, is to serve our community by providing excellent health care close to home,” BGH personnel said. “We will work through this list as quickly and safely as possible. Again, our ability to continue with vaccines depends on our allocation of vaccines. Thank you for your patience and support as we work through this ever-evolving situation.”
Panhandle Health District shared a similar plea for patience on its Facebook page Jan. 25.
“Many people in our community have reached out to us to find out more about the COVID-19 vaccine and how to schedule an appointment,” officials wrote. “When enough supply is available and we have sufficiently vaccinated those in phase 1a and the top priority groups in phase 1b … we can then begin taking appointments and vaccinating those 65 years and older. That is planned to begin in February.”
How, exactly, that large population of seniors will access registration was a topic of discussion as the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare held a press briefing Jan. 26, answering questions from reporters across the state about current distribution protocols.
When asked how the state plans to work with elderly people who may lack access to the internet or the technical skills required to navigate registering for a vaccine, officials said IDHW’s communications team is already looking at ways to reach that population, including working with churches and other groups who could spread the word.
“For those that are remote or are technology challenged, often they have some support system, either through a state-sponsored system or simply through family,” said IDHW Director Dave Jeppesen, adding later: “We’re going to use the existing tools that are out there, and use some nontraditional ones as well.”
Jeppesen said he has yet to hear any clear answer from the federal level regarding why vaccines haven’t been “distributed on an equal per capita basis,” but the Biden administration has said it will look into the issue.
“We have no understanding of why that’s happening and are very concerned about it and have been reaching out to our federal partners to raise that issue and ask them to address them,” Jeppesen told reporters.
That same day, President Joe Biden announced that he would be ramping up vaccine distribution to the states and also providing more timely estimates to state officials as to how many doses would be arriving and when.
The state’s guidance dictating that people 65 and older can access the vaccine within the coming week marks a serious increase in demand for providers — a reality Jeppesen said he hopes everyone will approach with patience and understanding.
“Anyone who is 65 and older who wants the vaccine is going to be able to do so,” he said, adding later: “It’s going to happen, but it’s not going to happen all in the first week, or even the first month.”
Gov. Brad Little will hold a virtual press conference regarding distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 12 p.m. PST. Watch it live on the Idaho Public Television YouTube channel. Those with questions about COVID-19 or the vaccine can contact the Panhandle Health District informational hotline at 877-415-5225
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