COVID Q&A: Vaccine distribution and administration in Idaho

Coming up at 10 a.m. Wednesday: FB Live with Sarah Leeds. Send your vaccine distribution questions ahead of time to Communications@dhw.idaho.gov or watch live on Wednesday and type your vaccine distribution questions in the comments. We will answer as many on-topic questions as we can, and we’ll consider off-topic questions for future FB Live events. Join us!

Q: How can I get a COVID-19 vaccine?

A: COVID-19 vaccination in Idaho is occurring in phases. Healthcare workers are now getting vaccinated, along with residents and staff of long-term care facilities. COVID-19 vaccine for the general public is expected to be available in spring or summer. We have published an estimated timeline for when people can expect to be vaccinated. However, that timeline is likely to change depending on how many vaccines Idaho receives and how many people decide to get it.

When the vaccine is available to their priority group, Idahoans will be able to get the vaccine through normal vaccination locations such as their employer, physician’s office, local public health district, or local pharmacy. See the timeline and learn more on the vaccine page on the state’s coronavirus website.

Q: How is Idaho making sure the vaccines are distributed as quickly and as efficiently as possible? Why have we not vaccinated more people?

A: Idaho’s total COVID-19 vaccine allocation for December was 73,775. Allocation means it has been set aside for Idaho and does not mean that this amount has been received by Idaho.

This total includes 15,600 doses transferred to the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, as well as doses CDC held in reserve to ensure second doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would be available when needed.

By the end of the week of Dec. 28, we expect 58,175 doses of COVID-19 vaccine in Idaho (not including those allocated to the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program). Of the 14,575 doses arriving the week of Dec. 28, 13,650 are second doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The second doses will not be administered until January since the vaccine doses must be administered at least 21 days apart.

There are many reasons why vaccine uptake documented in Idaho’s Immunization Reminder Information System (IRIS) is lagging behind vaccine distribution. We suspect more people have actually received the first dose of the vaccine than what the IRIS shows because there are several factors at play.

  • Vaccine administration is impacted by the holidays of Christmas and New Year’s, including the availability of vaccinators and people wanting to be vaccinated.
  • COVID-19 vaccine administration data must be submitted to IRIS within 72 hours of administration. Data are being provided by facilities familiar with IRIS, as well as some that are new to the system. The immunization program is working closely with these facilities to ensure they are able to report vaccine information in a timely manner.
  • A large portion of Idaho’s allocation (roughly 42 percent) was transferred to the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program. This federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens required CDC to hold these doses back BEFORE vaccination in long-term care facilities could start.
  • It will take time for CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate long-term care facility residents and staff. CVS and Walgreens are scheduling clinics in skilled nursing facilities well into late January, before moving on to other types of long-term care facilities.
  • Vaccinators must be trained, and healthcare personnel require detailed information about the vaccine.
  • Hospitals are stretched very thin right now; we are asking for a lot of their time, resources, space, energy, and effort to coordinate and execute vaccine clinics during a time they are also managing an extraordinary caseload of patients.

Logistics are probably the easiest part of vaccine distribution, even with vaccine as complicated as the ultra-cold Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Public health officials have maintained that the challenge is not just getting vaccine to the hospital loading dock — getting vaccine administered to people is much more complicated. Vaccination campaigns that are targeted to specific populations can be unpredictable. There is a balance between controlling the vaccine to avoid waste and vaccinating those who are in priority groups, and rapidly getting the vaccine administered.

The bottom line is that vaccines are being administered safely and successfully in Idaho. We will get faster and more efficient as we move forward and gain experience with these new vaccines. We want to make sure we continue to do it safely and correctly. Now is not the time to rush through the process, but to be deliberate and develop a sustainable cadence of vaccination.

Q: What’s the plan for getting COVID-19 vaccine to Idaho’s long-term care facilities?

A: The federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program started in Idaho the week of Dec. 28, with Walgreens and CVS administering vaccines in many of Idaho’s long-term care facilities. As of Dec. 28, 15,600 doses have been transferred from Idaho’s total allocation of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, per CDC guidelines. An equal number of doses will be transferred to the Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program over the next two weeks for a total of 31,200 doses.

The pharmacy partners anticipate having long-term care facility staff and residents fully vaccinated by mid-February. There are many variables that might change that timeline, including how many doses of vaccine Idaho is allocated each week and the number of people who choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Long-term care facilities that did not choose to participate in the federal program will receive their vaccines through other providers such as local public health districts, independent pharmacies, and healthcare providers in their communities.

To slow the spread of COVID-19 in Idaho, please continue to:

  • Wear face coverings  
  • Keep at least six feet between you and others
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects regularly

Resources

Stay up-to-date with the latest and most accurate information on COVID-19 at the following websites:

DHW also posts lots of information, including daily updates on the numbers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Sarah Leeds is the Idaho Immunization Program manager and the lead for Idaho’s vaccine distribution plans in the Division of Public Health in the Department of Health and Welfare.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.

2 thoughts on “COVID Q&A: Vaccine distribution and administration in Idaho

  1. Dana Smith

    My daughter is a nurse and has received her scheduled first dose of the vaccine however she learned that there were doses that had to be discarded because others did not show up for their appointments and the longevity of the Pfizer vaccine once it has been removed from refrigeration . Is there anything in place like a cancellation list that people could be on for those who don’t show up ? Yes you would have to be immediately available but I’m sure there are many people including myself that would do so.

    1. idhwmedia

      As you know, the Pfizer vaccine has very specific storage requirements that can be challenging for vaccine providers. We are confident that providers are doing their best to use the vaccine with as little wastage as possible, but we anticipate there may be some minimal number of doses that are not able to be used before they spoil.  While there is no requirement for a provider to submit a plan to the state, all providers sign an agreement that they have to report the number of doses of COVID-19 vaccine and adjuvants that were unused, spoiled, expired, or wasted. Public health agencies work with providers to redistribute the vaccine as needed.

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