Health and Welfare director: Repealing emergency order would disrupt COVID vaccine rollout

Dave Jeppesen, director of Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare speaks at a news conference on March 25, 2020 when Gov. Brad Little announced a statewide stay-at-home order due to coronavirus community spread. Sami Edge/Idaho EdNews file photo.

Repealing Idaho’s emergency declaration would disrupt the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine as the state ramps up to provide more shots to a wider class of people, Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said Tuesday.

Jeppesen voiced concerns similar to those Gov. Brad Little expressed Friday, when he said some legislators were pushing misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic to realize political gains.

Legislators, particularly Republicans in the Idaho House, have accused Little of overstepping his authority and repealing their freedom and liberties to combat the pandemic.

During a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Jeppesen said the emergency declaration allows the state to use federal funding and resources to support vaccine rollout.

“Our ability to effectively distribute vaccine would be disrupted without the emergency declaration,” Jeppesen said.

Currently, teachers and other school staff members serving students in pre-K through grade 12 are in the state’s priority vaccination group.

If the Legislature repeals the emergency declaration as part of a separation-of-powers showdown in the Statehouse, Jeppesen said the state would lose access to hundreds of National Guard troops who he described as playing a critical role in the vaccine plan.

Idaho would also lose access to FEMA funds. And state/federal partnerships like those between the state and the Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center would be threatened — compromising testing and vaccinations.

Finally, the Idaho Office of Emergency Management and Health and Welfare are requesting an incident management team from FEMA to help with vaccinations. That request can’t go through without an emergency declaration in place, Jeppesen said.

On Monday the state will move seniors age 65 and older into the priority vaccination group, Jeppesen added.

Idaho has more than 250,000 seniors and with a rate of about 21,000 new doses of COVID-19 vaccine arriving in The Gem State each week, it could take 10-12 weeks to move through that class based on current dosage shipments.

Teachers who haven’t received a vaccine still can, even after the state moves on to seniors next week.

But health officials said teachers and school staff may want to act quickly before demand for appointments increases.

“Once you’re eligible, you’re always eligible,” said state epidemiologist Christine Hahn. “We would encourage, though, those teachers to call maybe this week (for an appointment) before the flood hits next week.”

State officials say Idahoans can obtain a COVID-19 vaccine free of charge at many of the same places they would obtain a seasonal flu shot, including their doctor’s office, a hospital or medical clinic or a pharmacy.

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