Idaho officials ponder vaccination queue

Health care workers, long-term care facilities first in line for COVID-19 vaccine

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

Now that vaccines for COVID-19 have made their way to Idaho, health and government officials are working on how to most fairly and effectively distribute the highly coveted doses.

During an AARP Telephone Town Hall event on Dec. 22, Gov. Brad Little and Idaho Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen answered questions from constituents across the state — most of whom were curious about how, and when, they could receive the vaccine. 

Image courtesy CDC.

“The fact that we have our critical healthcare providers building antibodies every second that we sit here today is a sign that we’ve really turned the corner,” Little said. “It doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination, but given the efficacy of these vaccines … it really gives us great hope.”

Jeppesen said the state is currently working through phase 1A of its vaccine distribution plan, focusing on frontline health care providers and those working and living in long-term care facilities. He said the Idaho COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory committee hasn’t yet finalized who will be vaccinated in phase 1B, but they will likely prioritize essential employees who are required to work with the public, such as teachers and daycare workers. New federal guidance received over the weekend also suggested that people over the age of 75 be added to phase 1B, he said.

“[The advisory board is] working their way through many, many groups, and as that information becomes available it will be published on our website,” Jeppesen said, referring to “We will share which groups are going when and how to get that vaccine.”

Jeppesen said the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will continue to be shipped weekly to Idaho, and emphasized that the vaccines do not use a live or dead version of the virus to build antibodies in people — they are mRNA vaccines, which introduce a protein to cells which the body then learns to fight in the same way it would fight off the virus.

Jeppesen said the most common side effect of the vaccines is soreness in the arm that receives the shot, but said the immune response to the vaccine can also trigger fatigue, body aches and sometimes fever. These symptoms should go away “in a day or two,” he said.

IDHW has reported 132,594 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 in Idaho to date, 1,717 of which were added Dec. 22. The state has also logged 1,313 deaths from the virus, over 500 of which occurred in long-term care facilities, Jeppesen said during the AARP Town Hall.

In response to a constituent questioning why Little had yet to enact a statewide mask mandate, the governor hinted that he may be willing to take that step, but will continue leaving those decisions to local authorities for the time being.

“I want people to choose to do it because it’s the right thing, and I believe that people’s inclination to make that choice is going to be higher if it comes from locals,” he said. “Now, I’ve said many times, that doesn’t mean it’s going to preclude me from doing something if we get to a point where [we’re] going to have to on a statewide basis.”

Idaho was the first state to publicly track how many vaccine doses had been administered across the state through its website, Jeppesen also announced during the AARP call. Officials reported that 5,665 vaccines were doled out in Idaho as of Dec. 22.

Panhandle Health District, which oversees the five most northern counties, has reported 1,733 cases of COVID-19 in Bonner County since March. Currently, 564 of those are active. The county has also seen 13 virus-related deaths.

Among the positive cases in Bonner County during December is Bonner County Commissioner Steve Bradshaw, who confirmed with the Sandpoint Reader Dec. 21 that he fell ill early in the month and recovered.

“Had it, survived, been back at work for a week, life goes on,” Bradshaw wrote in an email.

Bradshaw, who has been a vocal opponent of the state and health district’s measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, said he “started to get a light headache and mild fever” on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 2. He called the commissioners’ office to inform them he wouldn’t be coming into work, “as per our policy,” he said. After a suggestion from Bonner County Human Resources personnel that Bradshaw call his doctor, he did, and his doctor suggested he get tested for COVID-19. He said he was tested that same day, received his positive results the next day, and began to quarantine.

Bradshaw, who also serves as pastor of the Cocolalla Cowboy Church, said he “did not preach the following two Sundays,” deferring to the associate pastors at his church. Bradshaw was also missing from the Tuesday, Dec. 8 county commissioners’ weekly business meeting and stayed away from the administration building during his isolation period.

“So life goes on and I have now graduated from ‘COVID University’ haha. The risk is real, the risk is small, and the choice is yours,” Bradshaw wrote to the Reader.

Bradshaw’s late-November effort to defund the Panhandle Health District in response to its multi-county mask mandate made news throughout Idaho and the Pacific Northwest, as he argued the health district was infringing on people’s “right to breathe” and reaching beyond its statutory duty with the mask order. The board of commissioners struck down Bradshaw’s proposed motion on Tuesday, Dec. 1, as the county’s legal counsel discovered such an action to defund PHD would be illegal.

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