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COVID-19

Idaho leaders ask why the state’s vaccine allotment is low

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 26, 2021

By Rebecca Boone Associated Press

BOISE — State health care leaders are pressing federal officials to explain why Idaho was allotted far fewer doses of coronavirus vaccine than most other states.

According to numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Idaho has been distributed vaccine at a rate of 10,298 doses for every 100,000 residents. The only state allotted less on a per-capita basis is South Carolina, which has received 10,092 doses for every 100,000 residents so far.

“We’ve reached out to the new administration to lodge our concern,” Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said Tuesday. “We have no understanding of why that’s happening and are very concerned about it,”

Officials with President Joe Biden’s administration told Jeppesen they weren’t sure why Idaho’s distribution was lower but would look into it, Jeppesen said.

Alaska has received the most per capita doses so far — at 22,271 doses for every 100,000 residents — although Idaho health officials say that’s because the remote state was sent enough to give its initial recipients both doses of the two-shot vaccine due to the difficulty involved in transporting the drugs across the Alaskan landscape.

West Virginia was sent vaccine at a rate of 15,534 doses for every 100,000 residents, and New Mexico was allotted nearly 13,000 doses for every 100,000 people so far.

Demand for the limited vaccine doses has been high and is expected to increase dramatically on Feb. 1, when Idaho residents 65 and older will become eligible for the vaccine. The state has been rolling its limited supply out to different priority groups, with health care workers, teachers and other emergency responders among the first in line.

It’s been impossible for public health officials to adequately track whether the priority group guidelines have been followed correctly or whether some traditionally disadvantaged populations within each group — such as Hispanic, Native American or Black residents and refugees — have been offered the vaccine at equitable rates. The legislation that created Idaho’s voluntary immunization tracking system doesn’t allow the state to collect some demographic information, including race or ethnicity and profession.

“We are limited in what we can collect — it is outlined in statute,” said Dr. Christine Hahn, the state epidemiologist. “We are working very hard to make sure we are including those communities in our discussions.”

So far more than 81,000 Idaho residents have been administered at least one dose of the two-dose vaccine, and about 15,500 are fully immunized. It’s not clear how many people who are eligible for the vaccine have opted against getting the shot.

Many of the state’s hospitals are reporting that between 60% and 70% of their eligible employees have accepted the vaccine, Hahn said. She hopes that percentage will continue to increase in coming weeks.

“Of course we had hoped for more than that, but that’s a good number,” Hahn said.

People in the first priority group who don’t yet have appointments to be vaccinated and want the vaccine should call their health care providers right away to get scheduled, Hahn said. Demand is expected to increase dramatically on Feb. 1, when nearly 300,000 residents 65 and older will become eligible for vaccination.

Those waiting for vaccines will need to be patient, said Hahn. Idaho is currently getting about 21,000 new vaccine doses every week, and at that rate it could take more than three months to get everyone in the second priority group vaccinated.

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