Little activates additional National Guard troops for COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Gov. Brad Little announced Tuesday he is activating 150 additional Idaho National Guard troops to help distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.

That will bring the total of guard troops assisting with vaccine distribution to 400 by the end of the week.

Little also announced a series of new grants designed to help health care providers more quickly administer the vaccine.

“We have got to ramp up the vaccine; it’s been a little frustrating for us that what we said we were going to get has been a little different,” Little said during a telephone town hall meeting sponsored by AARP Idaho. “I know there has been some confusion at the national level.”

The state’s efforts to ramp up the vaccine rollout come as K-12 teachers and school staff are part of the state’s immunization priority group, alongside frontline essential workers such as law enforcement and corrections staff.

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

“That is happening,” Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said. “We have many of them that have been vaccinated this last week and many more that are scheduled this week.”

While Little and Jeppesen said the state is ramping up its vaccine rollout, the state doesn’t know how many teachers have been vaccinated or how many have declined to get the vaccine.

Per Idaho law, the state collects limited data on individuals who are vaccinated and the dose they receive, said Sarah Leads, Health and Welfare’s immunization program manager. Demographic information, such as a person’s race and occupation, is not collected.

Although Little said he was optimistic that the vaccine represents a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, he warned there is a long road ahead to achieve widespread vaccination protection.

Little hoped to vaccinate everyone in Idaho by July. But he said Tuesday he doesn’t think the supply and the proportional rate of doses Idaho receives from the feds will be enough to meet the goal by then. Instead, Little estimated the 100 million doses over 100 days that President-elect Biden has pledged would yield about 160,000 doses per month for Idaho.

Although vaccination efforts will take time, officials said they are pleased with demand for the vaccine now.

“Our problem right now is demand far exceeds supply,” Jeppesen said. “Many, many hundreds of thousands of people are anxious to get vaccinated.”

As of Tuesday, the state reports it has administered 69,398 doses of vaccine, while Idaho has so far received about 164,000 vaccine doses.

The next group set to join the vaccine priority list is seniors age 65 and older, who are projected to get cleared for the shots beginning Feb. 1.

State officials said residents will be able to get the vaccine free of charge at many of the same places they would get a seasonal flu shot, such as a doctor’s office, hospital or pharmacy. Employers and public health districts may also offer the vaccine.

Health and Welfare officials urged Idahoans to make appointments to receive the shot instead of showing up unscheduled.

Coming later this week: Check back with Idaho Education News for a look at how the vaccine is being rolled out for school employees.

Clark Corbin

About Clark Corbin

Reporter Clark Corbin has covered Idaho government and education for more than a decade. He’s followed every legislative session, gavel-to-gavel, since 2011. Clark is a co-host of the Extra Credit podcast with Kevin Richert published on Fridays. You can follow him on Twitter: @clarkcorbin. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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