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COVID-19

Health workers, nursing homes at front of Idaho vaccine line

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 4, 2020

A general view of the Pfizer Manufacturing plant is shown Dec. 4 in Puurs, Belgium. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare says the state could get its first allotment of the Pfizer vaccine as soon as Dec. 15.  (Associated Press)
A general view of the Pfizer Manufacturing plant is shown Dec. 4 in Puurs, Belgium. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare says the state could get its first allotment of the Pfizer vaccine as soon as Dec. 15. (Associated Press)
By Rebecca Boone Associated Press

BOISE – Health care workers and nursing home residents will be first in line to get the coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available in Idaho in the next few weeks.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare says the state could get its first allotment of the Pfizer vaccine as soon as Dec. 15, with additional shipments to come over the following two weeks. Another vaccine by Moderna may become available in the state around Dec. 22, if federal regulators release it for distribution.

It’s not yet clear exactly how much vaccine will be sent to Idaho in the first few weeks. Dr. Carolyn Bridges, a retired CDC doctor who serves as an IDHW consultant, told members of Idaho’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee in a meeting Friday that the first week of shipments could bring an estimated 13,650 doses of the Pfizer vaccine. By the second and third weeks of distribution, the state could get as many as 75,500 additional doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

That’s still far short of the number needed to vaccinate all of Idaho’s frontline health care workers and long-term care residents and staff. Idaho has about 44,600 hospital and clinic staffers deemed essential for caring for COVID-19 patients and maintaining hospital capacity, according to IDHW data. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate the state has roughly 30,000 long-term care facility residents and staffers.

Idaho’s hospitals have been teetering on the brink of being completely overwhelmed by the pandemic in recent weeks, as widespread coronavirus transmission across the state sickened health care workers and filled hospital beds with COVID-19 patients. But long-term care facilities for elderly and infirm residents are potential hotbeds of coronavirus transmission, forcing many to refuse to take COVID-19 patients who would otherwise be able to be transferred from hospital beds to care facilities.

Making the first few batches of vaccine available to both groups could help tackle the issue of overwhelmed hospitals on two fronts, state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said. The pharmaceutical companies are expected to quickly increase vaccine production and distribution once the federal review process is complete, so more doses will continue to come to the state in coming months.

“It’s going to be a very quick ramp-up, so I actually think we’ll do better the more we spread this vaccine out in the beginning,” Hahn said.

Under the plan approved by the advisory committee Friday, the first week’s shipment of vaccine would go to health care workers, and long-term care facilities would be added to the distribution starting in the second week. That’s because the state must have a certain amount of vaccine on hand in order to use a federal distribution system originally put in place to get influenza vaccines to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Idaho has had more than 106,400 reported coronavirus infections since the pandemic began, and at least 1,014 residents have died from COVID-19.

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