From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Some common questions and answers about COVID-19 vaccines

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death. And now that the Delta variant is causing a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, those of you who are not vaccinated yet may have more questions about the vaccines.

Here are some common questions about the vaccines that may help in your decision-making. If you have more questions, I urge you to discuss them with a healthcare provider. The information below has been compiled from trusted sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and DHW subject matter experts, and they reflect some of the things I’m hearing on social media or in my community.

I hope you’ll consider the information below because it’s more important than ever to choose to get the vaccine. It is your best protection against this wily virus.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines experimental?

While the vaccines are still under investigation, an incredible amount of data has been submitted to FDA which is expected to result in full licensure in the coming months. In the meanwhile, the FDA has given the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines emergency use authorizations (EUA), which makes needed medications and vaccinations available during public health emergencies.

An EUA does not mean vaccine safety has been compromised. The same development processes are followed, including research, clinical studies, and the analysis of side effects and adverse reactions. Instead, it speeds up manufacturing and administrative processes so it is available more quickly and can potentially save lives.

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Smoky air is likely to be with us through summer and into fall. Here’s what you need to know.

Wildfire smoke can cause irritating symptoms for healthy people and more serious health issues for people with respiratory issues and heart and lung disease. It’s important to know how to protect yourself and your family from smoky air whenever possible.

Who is most at risk for harmful effects of smoke?

Infants and young children suffer more from smoke because they breathe more air than adults do for their body size. Older adults and people with lung and heart conditions also are especially sensitive to smoke in the air. Even low levels of smoke can cause breathing problems for sensitive groups that have asthma, COPD, and other chronic lung diseases. And for people with chronic heart conditions, smoky air can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. Smoke can also increase risk of premature birth in pregnant women.

When should we become concerned about the symptoms of smoke exposure? 

Common effects of smoke exposure include irritated eyes, nose, and throat. However, if you have shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, headaches, fatigue, or a combination of those symptoms and they become severe, you should call your doctor immediately.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: I urge you to choose to get the COVID-19 vaccine as the number of COVID-19 cases are on the rise

Every single COVID-19 indicator in Idaho is heading in the wrong direction.

  • The number of cases has started to rise.
  • The statewide seven-day moving average of cases per 100,000 has risen from a low of 3.4 on July 5 to 10.1 on July 22.
  • COVID-19 testing positivity is increasing from a low of 2.8 percent four weeks ago to 5.7 percent this week.
  • The number of long-term care facilities with active COVID cases has risen from a low of 14 a few weeks ago to 24 on July 23.

I am concerned, as many of you are, about what this means as we approach flu season, head back to school, and return to indoor activities.

The best way to protect yourself, your family and friends from COVID-19 is to get the COVID-19 vaccine. As of today, 49.1 percent of those 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. We all need those numbers to go up, and we are counting on the people of Idaho to get vaccinated.

We need more people to choose to get vaccinated. The reality of our current COVID-19 situation is that the pandemic is disproportionately affecting the unvaccinated. And, because children under 12 cannot get vaccinated at this time, the best way to protect them and others who can’t get vaccinated is to make sure those around them are vaccinated.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Emergency use authorization

COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson have all received an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are considered safe and effective at preventing serious illness and even death from COVID-19.

The following is information found on the FDA’s website. It has been edited for length and clarity. Visit the FDA link to read the full Q&A and learn more about each vaccine.

What is an EUA?

An emergency use authorization is a process that helps make needed medications and vaccinations available during emergencies. An EUA does not affect vaccine safety, because it does not impact development, such as research, clinical studies, and the analysis of side effects and adverse reactions. Instead, it speeds up manufacturing and administrative processes.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines rigorously tested?

Yes. All vaccines follow the same testing processes, whether they are approved for emergency use or through a typical license. Clinical trials evaluated investigational COVID-19 vaccines in tens of thousands of study participants to generate the scientific data and other information needed to determine safety and effectiveness. These clinical trials are conducted according to the rigorous standards set forth by the FDA.

Currently, millions of Americans have safely chosen to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Mosquito and tick bites can lead to serious illness

Mosquitoes and ticks can carry some pretty serious bugs, like bacteria and viruses. It’s important to do everything you can to avoid getting bitten.

Tick- and mosquito-borne diseases can vary by region in the United States. Besides West Nile virus, are there other insect-borne diseases we should be informed about in Idaho?

Before you head into the outdoors, or even into your backyard, you should learn more about the diseases associated with local ticks and mosquitoes. In Idaho, public health officials are most concerned about West Nile virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tick-borne relapsing fever, and tularemia.

What about Lyme disease?

We often hear about Lyme disease in the national media, but cases in Idaho are rare and typically only occur in people who have traveled to other areas of the country, such as the eastern and midwestern states, where infected ticks have been found. The tick that carries Lyme disease is not known to live in Idaho. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an excellent resource if you want to learn more about the risks of insect bites in a different state or country.

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A reminder from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: 98.7 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations are Idahoans with no record of being fully vaccinated

The facts are clear. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective. Currently, the vast majority of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths among Idahoans occurred among those who were not fully vaccinated when they became ill or tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

  • From Jan. 1 through July 3, Idaho has had 52,699 cases of COVID-19. 497 (0.9 percent) of those had a record of being fully vaccinated, 52,202 (99.1 percent) had no record of being fully vaccinated.  
  • In that same time period, 2,479 Idahoans were hospitalized for COVID-19. 32 (1.3 percent) had a record of being fully vaccinated. 2,447 (98.7 percent) had no record of being fully vaccinated.
  • Also in that same time period, 433 Idahoans died from COVID-19. Five (1.2 percent) had a record of being fully vaccinated. 428 (98.8) percent) had no record of being fully vaccinated.

Getting the vaccine is a choice, but it is a choice that protects your families and fellow residents … and you. I hope you stay healthy. I want your parents and children to stay healthy. If you are looking for a place to get a vaccine, you can find a mobile clinic near you or a walk-in location or pharmacy near you.

As of today, 51.3 percent of adults aged 18 and older in Idaho have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 76.9 percent of those age 65 and older have received one dose of the vaccine. 

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An update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Latest research helps us better understand vaccine confidence among Idahoans

At certain times during the COVID-19 pandemic, Idaho conducted research to help us understand current awareness and understanding of COVID-19, safety precautions, and the COVID-19 vaccine. Recently, the state conducted a survey with 300 Idahoans who are currently unvaccinated. We wanted to understand if they will choose, at some point, to get vaccinated and what would be the reason. And, if they are choosing to not get vaccinated, what has led them to that personal decision?

Some highlights of the survey results include:

  • Many people are in the “wait and see how things go” mindset. This means people will decide, in their own time, when they will get the vaccine. They are not against getting vaccinated, but they may be looking for a trigger (travel, school starting, etc.) or time and convenient access to the vaccine because of their busy lifestyles.
  • Many people also indicated they wanted to wait for a year or so to see how things were going.
  • Most unvaccinated people are not concerned about getting COVID-19. They do express some concern about and the possible side effects of the available vaccines. (Note: Some more common side effects are swelling, redness, and pain at the injection site; fever; headache; tiredness; muscle pain; chills; and nausea. Serious side effects are extremely rare.)
  • For those who are likely to get the vaccine, convenience is a major concern. Idahoans also indicated a preference for getting the vaccine at a pharmacy.
  • Those likely to be vaccinated in the future are concerned about time off work for the appointment OR if they experience side effects. (Note: Gov. Brad Little took this concern to heart and has set the example for other leaders in Idaho. He gave state employees four hours of paid leave if they have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine or if they will be doing so in the future).
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It’s hot out! Stay cool, hydrated, and informed

Idaho and the Pacific Northwest are experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures this week, with high temperatures in the triple digits in many parts of the state, and several agencies, including the National Weather Service and some of Idaho’s local public health districts,  issuing excessive heat warnings and advisories. Heat-related illnesses are a very real possibility, but the good news is that they are preventable. You will need to stay cool, stay hydrated, and stay informed.

What are some signs of heat-related illnesses?

Signs of heat exhaustion include dizziness, heavy sweating, a pale appearance to the skin, muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting, and headaches. If things get worse to the point where you have a very high body temperature, are not sweating, and are experiencing hallucinations or disorientation, or you pass out, you may have heat stroke. Call 9-1-1 right away and take immediate steps to cool down.

Who is most at risk for heat-related illness?

People at the highest risk are babies and children up to age 4, people 65 and older, as well as anyone who is overweight, sick, or on certain medications. People without air conditioning, athletes, and outdoor workers are also at high risk of heat-related illness. Children are particularly at risk in the heat – their bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults. But everyone can get sick in the heat if they’re not careful, especially if they’re doing strenuous physical activities in high temperatures. When it’s hot out, you might consider checking on any high-risk family, friends, and neighbors to make sure they are staying cool.

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DHW’s Living Strategic Plan: A year of progress toward Goal 4 – Strengthening the public’s trust and confidence in the Department of Health and Welfare

The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) is in the final stages of developing our next five-year strategic plan. As we add the final touches on our vision for the future, we have also taken the opportunity to reflect on the journey behind us. As we review tasks in our final week of the current 2021 – 2025 Strategic Plan, we are proud to share our accomplishments, and also some of the lessons we have learned from the challenges we have faced and how those have shaped our next strategic plan.

Today’s post is the final post in a four-part series highlighting the department’s progress toward our mission and the goals we have committed to. In this blog post, I am highlighting some of the key achievements over the past year as part of Strategic Goal 4: Strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in the Department of Health and Welfare.

Objective 4.1: Create consistent, respectful experiences for customers throughout their journey by developing and implementing a customer experience strategy that improves the customer’s experiences in key moments. The strategy will be measured by the Customer Effort Score* and improved by 10 percent by July 1, 2024.

  • DHW staff from across divisions worked together to improve the customer experience of families applying for Katie Beckett Program. The purpose of this program is to help children with severe disabilities receive care in their home rather than in a nursing home or other institution. There is now an improved website experience to assist families in the application process, informational materials for providers to help families through the process, and improvements made to processes within DHW and the assessment processes administered by independent contractors.
  • The cross-divisional team working on the Katie Beckett Program customer experience project created and distributed a survey in June 2020 to DHW customers who participated in the level of care assessment to determine the Customer Effort Score (CES). With this survey, they established a baseline CES of 3.11. This baseline was used to show whether the changes made to the application process have been helpful for these Idaho families, with a target of improving the score by 10 percent. When the survey was conducted again in March 2021, the new CES was 3.54, a 13.8​ percent increase from 3.11. Although this increase is great news, we will continue to work to improve this experience for those we serve.
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COVID Q&A: Free, at-home COVID-19 tests are available in Idaho by dialing 2-1-1

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) is offering free at-home COVID-19 tests to Idaho residents.

Why is DHW offering the free tests?

The department was able to purchase the tests last year and were using them in conjunction with local public health districts and community partners. As the demand for testing has decreased, DHW staff worked with the test manufacturer, VAULT Medical, to develop a more convenient process that would make it easier for people to be tested in their own homes., We want to remove as many barriers as possible to testing so we can identify cases and continue to slow the spread of COVID-19.

How do I get a test?

Call the Idaho CareLine by dialing either 2-1-1 or 1-800-926-2588 to get the free test. The only personal information required is a name and mailing address. It may take a couple of days to receive it, so if you are having severe symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately.

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