From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Why I chose to get vaccinated; and an update on our five-year strategic plan

As the COVID-19 vaccine was being developed last year, I felt a huge need to know if the vaccines were scientifically sound, safe, and effective. Just like you, I needed to know this before I could choose to be vaccinated and encourage my family to do the same. 

Also, because of my job as the director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, I knew that if I made a recommendation, it would be to you and everyone else in Idaho. I would be asking all of you to choose to get vaccinated. I take that responsibility seriously. It is very, very important to me that the COVID-19 vaccines had data and studies with evidence to support that they are safe and effective. That is the only way that I could choose to get vaccinated myself or recommend the vaccine to you.

I had the benefit of getting real-time information from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the process to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. What I learned was:

  • There were no short cuts in developing the vaccine.
  • The mRNA technology being used has been researched and tested for many years (see my Aug. 27 blog for more information on the mRNA vaccines)
  • The clinical trials included many more volunteers than is usual for a vaccine trial.
  • The independent oversight committees that reviewed the clinical trials data, and data gathered after the trials, included independent healthcare professionals and scientists who were not going to “rubber stamp” a vaccine.
  • There is a body of evidence of vaccine safety over time.

The same robust scientific process used to approve any drug or vaccine was followed for the COVID-19 vaccine. The scientific and data-driven processes are what make drugs and treatments safe in the United States. Because I watched this process closely. I have complete trust and confidence in the vaccine. You can find more information here about the COVID-19 vaccines:

The COVID-19 vaccine data shows there is clear evidence that the vaccines are effective. In fact, these are some of the most effective vaccines ever. The vaccines are very effective against getting COVID-19 (and the Delta variant) and in protecting against hospitalization and death. 

In addition, there are now more than 200 million Americans and more than 828,200 Idahoans who have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. The CDC, as well as scientists and healthcare professionals in Idaho, have been diligent about monitoring for adverse effects. While there are some common side effects (such as soreness, headache, or being tired), they are mild and pass quickly. 

More importantly, there are have been very few serious side effects. If there were wide-spread serious adverse side effects from the vaccine, I promise you I would share that information with all Idahoans so we all can make informed decisions. 

It is a personal choice to get the COVID-19 vaccine. For me, the risk of getting COVID-19 (and possibly sharing the virus with my loved ones) was a risk I was not willing to take.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a local intensive care unit (ICU) over the weekend. It was full, and almost everyone there was a COVID-19 patient. The vast majority of the COVID-19 patients in the ICU were unvaccinated. One of those patients died just before I arrived. Several more were anticipated to pass away in the next day or two. I don’t have the words to describe the suffering and sadness of the patients, their families, and the medical staff working desperately to save their lives. I still think about the people I saw, and how they were suffering. When you see the pain and heartbreak firsthand, the risk of getting COVID-19 just seems too high.

Every day I hear stories from co-workers and friends who had a friend or family member suffering, and even dying, from this relentless virus. It weighs on me, and it makes me even more motivated to encourage you to consider choosing to get vaccinated. I don’t want you or any of your loved ones to suffer the way I saw the people in the ICU suffering on my visit.  

If you haven’t been vaccinated, please consider making the choice to do so. If you have concerns, please consider discussing them with your doctor.

The DHW Strategic Plan: 2022-2026

I am pleased to announce the completion of our new five-year strategic plan. You can find the 2022-2026 plan on the DHW website. Throughout the year, the DHW Senior Leadership Team holds weekly meetings to work through the tasks in our plan. And each spring, we begin the process of taking a few steps back to look at the big picture before we write our new plan.

In the 2022-2026 Strategic Plan, we commit to continue working toward the same four goals we pledged in our previous strategic plan:

GOAL 1: Ensure affordable, available healthcare that

GOAL 2: Protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults

GOAL 3: Help Idahoans become as healthy and self-sufficient as possible

GOAL 4: Strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the Department of Health and Welfare

This year, we have included  problem statements. For each strategic objective, we challenged ourselves to get to the root of the problem: what exactly is the issue we are trying to address?

In this strategic plan, we have also included four new strategic objectives:

  • Problem statement: Idahoans in some areas of the state may not access needed healthcare services due to healthcare professional shortages and limited access points. 
    • Objective: Increase the number of National Health Service Corps clinic sites by 12 percent by June 30, 2023.
  • Problem statement: Idaho’s current behavioral healthcare services are not structured in a system to maximize the potential effectiveness of the services to meet the diverse needs Idahoans with behavioral health conditions.
    • Objective: Develop and implement a behavioral healthcare system in Idaho that provides the services that people need, when they need them through implementation of the Youth Empowerment Services (YES) implementation plan and the Idaho Behavioral Health Council (IBHC) strategic action plan by July 1, 2024.
  • Problem statement: Idahoans often find that our external communication materials use government jargon and are not written in language appropriate for the target audience.
    • Objective: Implement the use of plain language to improve the customer experience. Commitment to plain language will be measured by a Flesch Reading Ease Score of 60 or above and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Score of 8th grade (or under). Plan should be in place by Dec. 31, 2021. The Office of Communications will commit to meeting these goals in 75 percent of reviewed and new material between Jan. 1, 2022, and Dec. 1, 2023.
  • Problem statement: Growth in Idaho’s population and the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in the need to improve the department’s performance in completing criminal history background checks for individuals who provide services to vulnerable people, and in completing required inspections of licensed healthcare facilities and services. Also, the performance of the department’s regulatory activities is not always visible enough to help Idahoans see the benefits of those activities.
    • Objective: Enhance public health and safety by improving the effectiveness and visibility of specific regulatory activities by June 30, 2022.

You can read more about each of these objectives in our strategic plan. It helps us organize our work as we deal with crisis situations. It also ensures that we don’t take our eye off the ball in the other important work that continues each day.

The plan encompasses the work done every day by our dedicated staff throughout the department and focuses on the innovations and big ideas we will be turning into reality over the next five years. Also, throughout the year, we will regularly post updates in this blog to keep you informed of the progress we are making toward our mission of strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. We welcome any feedback on this work at

I hope you have a safe and healthy weekend.

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