Saturday, November 27, 2021
Nov. 27, 2021

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Despite crisis, few in Idaho get vaccinated

Officials’ pleas have had little effect as hospitals continue to struggle


BOISE, Idaho — Major Idaho hospitals have been operating in crisis standards of care for weeks.

And for months, elected representatives, public health officials and hospital leaders have been pleading with Idaho residents to get vaccinated, which they have said is the only viable path to ending the pandemic more quickly.

But data show that those pleas have not been heeded by much of the public. Over the past month, the number of new people getting vaccinated has fallen while the hospitals have been in crisis.

The sluggish uptake prompted Dr. Steven Nemerson, the chief clinical officer at Saint Alphonsus Health System, to say on Oct. 12 that the state has “lost the war” with COVID-19, and that the virus is here for the long haul.

“The reason it is here to stay is because we cannot vaccinate enough of the public to fully eradicate the disease,” he said. “And absent being able to do that … we now need to move into the phase of recognizing that COVID is going to be a disease to be managed for the long-term future.”

Crisis standards were activated statewide on Sept. 16.

The week of Sept. 12-18, about 13,115 people received either a first dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or a first — and only — dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot. That number has declined every week since, to a low of 6,141 first doses administered the week of Oct. 10-16, according to data from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. That’s a decline of about 63 percent.

The declining demand for vaccines has kept Idaho among the nation’s least-vaccinated states. Through Tuesday, only 53.9 percent of eligible Idahoans were vaccinated against COVID-19 — the second-lowest rate in the nation.

On Oct. 5, Sarah Leeds, immunization program manager at Health and Welfare, addressed the dip in demand.

“We don’t know exactly why, when crisis standards of care went into effect, (first-dose) vaccine administration by day started to decrease,” she said at a press conference.

Over the past two months, an average of about 1,500 new Idahoans have decided to get vaccinated each day, according to Dr. Kathryn Turner, deputy state epidemiologist.

“Every single one of those people is a reason to celebrate,” she said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

Though fewer unvaccinated Idahoans are choosing to get shots, the story is slightly different for people already vaccinated who are becoming eligible for additional doses.

In mid-August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended third doses of Moderna and Pfizer shots for certain people with weakened immune systems, including people receiving certain types of chemotherapy, no less than one month after their second dose. On Sept. 23, the CDC recommended booster doses of the Pfizer shots for high-risk Americans six months after receiving the two-dose Pfizer course.

The week of Sept. 26, around 19,000 Idahoans received a third dose or booster shot, according to state data. The week of Oct. 3, that number fell to around 17,000.

Since August, as groups have become eligible for additional doses, the overall number of administered shots in Idaho has increased, but Leeds said the increase has been slow.

As of Tuesday, 66,152 Idahoans have received a third dose or booster dose. It’s unclear how many total people are eligible.

“I would not say that people are absolutely flocking,” Leeds said. She said IDHW will have a better idea of uptake if booster doses for the other vaccines are also authorized.