IDAHO FALLS – Gov. Brad Little gave an updated timeline for vaccine rollouts Friday, saying that nearly all essential workers and Idahoans in high-priority groups could be provided shots by June but emphasizing the continued need for caution in the meantime.
Little held a 45-minute news conference with reporters at the Aero Mark building near Idaho Falls Regional Airport on Friday morning. Little estimated that everyone in the highest-priority phase of recipients should be getting their first of two vaccine doses by the end of January. The next few months should see the majority of other essential workers and members of critically important groups receiving their vaccines.
“With the vaccines coming, we are maybe 120 days away from, for the most part, life back to normal. And it will be longer than that before everyone gets vaccinated,” Little said.
Health care workers and long-term care facility residents across the state are the initial, highest-priority group of vaccine recipients in Idaho. At least 944 vaccines were administered throughout the state in the first four days they were available.
Little said that hospitals and the Idaho National Guard were preparing for a crunch of work at the end of January as more vaccine types and doses will be brought into the state.
Idaho’s seven-day average rate of new COVID cases hit an all-time peak Dec. 10, potentially due to a spike of Thanksgiving-related cases, but has steadily declined over the following days. Little said there was still a significant risk that a big Christmas-related spike of cases could force the state to enact crisis standards of care early next year.
“Our societal nature is for a lot of transmissible moments around those holidays,” Little said.
The crisis standards of care laid out by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare would involve prioritizing and limiting which patients are accepted into hospitals to maintain health care capacity. Those standards would be reached if counties and hospitals saw major shortages of staff and space to accommodate new patients.
Health and Welfare announced Thursday that the next Pfizer vaccine shipment would contain fewer than 10,000 doses, about half the amount initially expected. During the meeting of the Idaho COVID-19 Advisory Committee later on Friday, vaccination program manager Sarah Leeds said less than 2,000 doses are available for health care workers, according to Boise State Public Radio reporter James Dawson.
Expectations early in the year had been that COVID vaccines would be moderately effective at offering protection for the virus, which would require many more Idahoans to receive them in order to approach mass levels of immunity. Given that Idaho has one of the highest immunization opt-out rates in the country both for children and adults, that posed a challenge in encouraging use of the new vaccines.
Little called the 95% effectiveness rate for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine variants an “absolute miracle.”
“It’s going to be my responsibility to help make the point, and have our public health officials make the case to people to choose to get that vaccine. It would have been a much tougher sale if it was only 50-60% effective,” Little said.
Idaho’s state Legislature will likely see major debate over the next steps to handle the coronavirus pandemic. Prominent Democrats have requested to delay the session until April or add masks requirements for legislators during the session. At the other end, Republican legislators could repeat their attempts during the special legislative session in August to limit the authority of Little or regional public health districts to enact new restrictions.
Little said that the Legislature guards its independence from his office, and legislators are able to take whatever actions they want after their required meeting to begin the session on Jan. 11.
Little added that the State of the State address in early January would be organized differently this year to avoid having a mass gathering and that the expanded ability to stream committee meetings and legislative hearings could ease some attendance concerns.
“The further you are from Boise, the more important it is that you have a comfort level in knowing what’s going on and even better than that, how to participate,” Little said.
The special legislative session saw interruptions from protesters, some armed or led by Ammon Bundy, voicing opposition to any level of virus restrictions enacted by the state.
Little mentioned he was in discussions to avoid a similar incident during the 2021 session.
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