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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Still a lot of unknowns’: Idaho prepares for COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Idaho is currently finalizing its plans to distribute the first allocation of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses.

The state is prepared to receive 13,650 doses initially. Of those, 1,950 – or about 14.7% – are expected to go to the Panhandle Health District.

The state will receive the same amount of doses 21 days later to serve as the second dose for those who received the first vaccinations.

The state’s Vaccine Advisory Committee met a week ago to submit final recommendations for who should be prioritized for the vaccine. Gov. Brad Little will be the final approval.

Once the vaccine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it will be shipped to states within 24 to 48 hours, Dave Jeppesen, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said in a telephone town hall meeting Tuesday.

An FDA vaccine advisory panel formally recommended the authorization of the vaccine. The agency will likely do so within days.

Jeppesen said the vaccinations, which he called “very safe and very effective”, could start as early as Tuesday or Wednesday.

“If everything goes according to plan, there’s a good chance that in late April, May, June, we should be able to go back to a much more normal life than we’ve lived here in Idaho,” Little said in the meeting.

But as with other states, not everyone will be able to receive vaccinations right away.

Health care workers, as well as staff and residents at long-term care facilities, will be the first vaccinated, according to the state’s coronavirus work group.

Those working directly with COVID-19 patients will be the highest priority, Jeppesen said.

The first shipments in the Panhandle Health District will go directly to hospitals, according to a Friday news release. Once more of the vaccine becomes available, shipments will be delivered to health care providers and pharmacies who have registered with the state.

Because the first shipment is so limited, the health district has asked hospital partners to submit what they’ll need out of it, spokesperson Katherine Hoyer said in an email.

“It’s important for the public to know that there are still a lot of unknowns regarding the supply and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines,” Lora Whalen, district director for Panhandle Health District, said in a release.

As part of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program, the state will partner with Walgreens and CVS to help store and administer the vaccinations for long-term care facilities. That partnership cannot be initiated until there are enough doses for at least half of the residents and staff, Jeppesen said.

It’s unclear how many doses the state will get each week after the initial amount. Tentatively, the state expects to receive 89,150 doses in the second and third shipment, according to the Panhandle Health District.

After health care workers and long-term care residents comes “critical infrastructure workers”, including other first responders, public safety workers, teachers, and correctional and detention facility staff, food processing workers, grocery store employees and the Idaho National Guard.

The next group includes older adults and those with underlying conditions, followed by essential workers and young adults. The final phase will be when the vaccine is readily available to everyone who has not received it yet.

Children will likely be included in phase three, although the effectiveness of the vaccine on children is currently being tested.

Jeppesen said he expects the state to move into phase two of the vaccine plan, the older adults and underlying conditions group, by late winter or early spring. By early summer, he is anticipating “a good chunk of the general population” to be vaccinated.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.