As demand wanes, Idaho speeds up vaccination eligibility

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho public health officials are grappling with how to encourage coronavirus vaccinations for residents who are hesitant to get the shots, and they’re letting new groups get in line in the meantime.

About 55% percent of residents 65 and older have had at least one shot, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare director Dave Jeppesen said Tuesday, and demand among that age group appears to be waning even as the state’s supply of vaccine increases.

“This has resulted in some vaccine providers struggling to fill up their available appointments,” he said.

Idaho is currently getting enough coronavirus vaccine for about 45,000 new people every week, and many younger residents are eagerly awaiting their chance at the shots. As a result, the state is speeding up its priority group schedule, Jeppsen said.

Many health care providers are expected to start offering vaccinations to the next priority group — those 55 and older — no later than March 15. People with high-risk health conditions will get priority for the first week, and after that everyone in the age group will be eligible. Those 45 and older will become eligible on March 29, with the first week again focusing on residents with high-risk health conditions.

Health leaders are hoping for more buy-in from people still waiting for vaccines, and they’re working on public health campaigns to overcome “vaccine hesitancy,” Jeppesen said.

The department has done some polling to see what is holding people back. The results show roughly 60 percent of Idaho adults are ready and willing to get a vaccination as soon as they are eligible, he said. Another 20 percent are interested but want to wait and see how others fare after getting vaccinated before they make a final decision.

About 20 percent of those polled are either adamantly against getting vaccinated or are going to be hard to convince, he said.

That could make it difficult for the state to reach herd immunity, where the said the virus can’t cause big outbreaks, making it safer for people to live normally. Experts currently think that at least 80% percent of the population will need to be vaccinated to reach that point, said state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn. Some think the number could be as high as 90%.

People need to understand the vaccine is safe and effective, she said.

“That’s obviously the end game. It’s a ways away,” Hahn said. “It just shows us the work we need to do.”

Saturday will mark the one-year anniversary of Idaho’s first reported case of coronavirus, Idaho Gov. Brad Little said.

“Seems like it’s been longer than a year to me,” he said. “Tragically, we have lost close to 1,900 of our fellow Idahoans to this new, dangerous and aggressive disease. We mourn the loss of life and pray for strength and peace for the loved ones they left behind.”

More than 173,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in the state, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Nearly 285,000 residents have received at least one dose of vaccine. The state estimates that at least 650,000 residents are currently eligible for vaccinations.

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