Idaho’s coronavirus vaccine rollout is moving along, and ahead of schedule.
And while nothing is guaranteed, the accelerated timetable could bode well for thousands of Idahoans — including college and university staff and students — who are still biding their time in the vaccination queue.
On March 15, another wave of frontline workers will be able to get their vaccine, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said Tuesday. That’s several weeks ahead of schedule; for some time, the state has said this group of workers wouldn’t be eligible for vaccines before early April.
These 134,000 workers in Idaho’s “Group 2.3” aren’t in education. They work in food processing plants or grocery stores, for example, or they work for the U.S. Postal Service. But as the state works its way through Group 2.3, the state could step up the rest of its schedule. That means another wave of Idahoans — known as “Group 3” — could be eligible to get vaccines on or about April 1.
“We have to kind of wait and see,” state epidemiologist Christine Hahn said during a media briefing Tuesday afternoon.
And April is when higher education staff and college students might, or might not, get a spot in the line.
The state still needs to figure out who will fall into Group 3. Potentially, it could be a large and logistically challenging group, of up to 470,000 Idahoans. It could include people 18 to 64 years old with medical issues that place them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. It could include other groups of frontline workers, as proposed by the Centers for Disease Control.
The process is so complicated that a few states have decided to simply roll out the vaccine by age group, Hahn said Tuesday.
As of Monday, more than 249,000 Idahoans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and nearly 127,000 Idahoans have received two doses.
State officials expect the pace to pick up.
This week, the state should receive 40,000 first doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, and 13,300 doses of the newly approved, single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said Tuesday.
The state won’t receive another delivery of Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week, but should be back to receiving 55,000 or more doses per week by late March.
“That has allowed us to accelerate the timelines,” Jeppesen said.
During an AARP Idaho virtual town hall meeting earlier Tuesday, Gov. Brad Little touted the pace of the rollout — but also fielded calls from some seniors who have struggled to line up a vaccine appointment.
“I’ve kind of just given up,” said one caller, who identified herself as Charlotte, a Rexburg resident. “Your time is valuable, no matter who you are.”
“I understand your frustration and I don’t want you to get discouraged,” said Little.
The state began making coronavirus vaccines available to senior citizens a month ago — the largest and most complicated step in the vaccine rollout to date. As of Tuesday, 47 percent of people over age 65 have received at least one vaccine dose. For those over age 85, that number is 53 percent, Jeppesen said.
“(It’s) a great, great sign,” Little said. “We need to get everybody vaccinated.”
Idaho’s vaccine rollout began in December with health care workers and long-term care facility residents. In January, the state deviated from Centers for Disease Control guidelines and prioritized K-12 teachers and staff.
As the rollout continues, and potentially becomes even more complex, the state is planning to launch a website designed to make the process more user-friendly. Idahoans will be able to register for a vaccine and get their name and contact information placed in a database. Vaccine providers will then call eligible Idahoans to schedule appointments.
The site is expected to go live later this week.