From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Trusting and believing in Idahoans

I was born and raised in Idaho. It is where I choose to live and work. I enjoy the beautiful weather and breathtaking scenery of my home state, and I trust the people and professionals who live here. I am, and always will be, a proud Idahoan. We are extremely fortunate to live in such an amazing place.

As an Idahoan, I think of myself as independent. But the reality is that I depend on others almost every day. Most of us do this without even thinking about it. Our lives are intertwined in many ways. We rely on others to build the roads we drive on, deliver goods to the stores we shop in, and help us when we need to buy a car or a home. We, ultimately, need each other.

We all offer and seek expertise and support in our daily lives. When a pipe breaks in my home, I look to an expert, a plumber, to assess and fix the issue. I will trust the plumber because this is something I do not know how to do myself. I don’t understand the intricacies of the plumbing system in my home, and I need an expert. I trust the plumber because this person has spent many hours and years perfecting his craft.

That’s just one example. I seek experts almost every day. When I have a problem with my car, I reach out to my son, who is a master certified car technician, for help. When our dogs become ill, we have a trusted veterinarian we visit. When my children headed to college, I trusted (and still trust) the teachers and educators to prepare them for their careers.

And, when I am ill, I trust my doctor to make sure I get the most effective advice and treatment to get me back on my feet.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: COVID-19 myths and misinformation: Setting the record straight

The misinformation and disinformation available on social media and other communication channels shows no sign of slowing down. At the Department of Health and Welfare, it is our responsibility and obligation to share accurate and timely information with all Idahoans. It is important to us that you have a place to turn to and a source for truth.

There is still much to learn about the coronavirus and COVID-19. New information from peer-reviewed studies accepted by the scientific community becomes available all the time. This is information from the experts that we can all trust. We are committed to sharing what we know now and will continue to share new information as it becomes available. Below is some of the false and misleading information we continue to see online, and my response to that information, based on discussions and consultations with the experts at DHW.

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FICTION: Vaccines are failing and the vaccinated are spreading the Delta variant of COVID-19.

FACT: In a phone briefing in August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director stated that a small number of vaccinated people who are infected with the Delta variant can have a similar viral load as infected unvaccinated people. A rumor quickly spread that the director said that the COVID-19 vaccines are failing.

The truth is that vaccinated people in Idaho are five times less likely than unvaccinated people to contract Delta, making it much harder for them to spread it to others. The vaccines are not failing – they provide excellent protection against hospitalization and death from COVID-19. But they are not perfect, and it is possible to become infected even after vaccination. However, people who receive the vaccine and do become infected are less likely to have serious illness resulting in hospitalization or death.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Correcting COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation takes all of us

Every day, our public health officials, doctors, nurses, and others are responding to the ongoing pandemic and the surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in our own state. They are exhausted and disheartened. And, on another front, we face the continued challenge of responding to the overabundance of misinformation and disinformation related to the virus on social media. Much of this information could be harmful.

I want to address information you might see on social media platforms that is patently false and misleading.

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FICTION: The mRNA vaccine alters your DNA.

FACT: No. (Read more about this in my DHW Voice blog from Aug. 27)

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FICTION: Public health officials, doctors, nurses, hospitals (and others in healthcare) get paid to specifically talk about the COVID-19 vaccine and encouraging others to get the vaccine.

FACT: No, this is false.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Idaho is now under Crisis Standards of Care statewide, and our hospitals and healthcare systems need our help

The Department of Health and Welfare announced Thursday that Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) was being implemented statewide. The decision came after St. Luke’s Health System requested that CSC be activated.

The CSC Activation Advisory Committee met late Wednesday afternoon, and the decision was made to activate early Thursday morning. It was a thoughtful, heart-wrenching decision. No one wants this, but this is where we are. Our hospitals and healthcare systems have reached their resource limits. There is simply too much demand for care from people who are sick with COVID-19. There are not enough beds, rooms, staff or other resources for Idahoans who need hospitalization. CSC was the absolute last resort. The situation is dire in Idaho.

Although CSC was activated statewide by the Department of Health and Welfare, the hospitals will implement according to their own policies and available resources. Each hospital will make patient-care decisions based on the current situation at each hospital.

After our announcement early yesterday, the Idaho Hospital Association, St. Luke’s Health System, Saint Alphonsus Health System, Minidoka Memorial Hospital, and Portneuf Medical Center held a press conference in the afternoon.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: The activation of Crisis Standards of Care is a call-to-action for all Idahoans

Because of a surge in COVID-19 patients who need to be in the hospital in North Idaho, Crisis Standards of Care was activated in Idaho on Sept. 6 after a request from Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene. This was a first for Idaho.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) activated Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) in accordance with IDAPA 16.02.09 – Crisis Standards of Care For Healthcare Entities in the Panhandle Health District and the North Central Health District (Public Health Districts 1 and 2).

No one takes this step lightly. Not Kootenai Health. Not the hospitals and healthcare organizations in northern Idaho. Not the healthcare workers. And not us. However, the goal is to extend care to as many patients as possible and save as many lives as possible. It means that we have a plan for what to do when there is a limited supply of resources available.

This was something I fervently hoped to avoid, and it was a difficult day for me personally when we activated Crisis Standards of Care.

What should you do? How can you help?

First, I would tell you to be careful. Wear your seatbelt. Take your prescribed medications. This is not the time to engage in any high-risk activity that might land you in the hospital … any hospital. Although we are all focused on North Idaho healthcare facilities right now, all hospitals and healthcare facilities in the state are stretched thin. We need to protect the capacity they have for our fellow Idahoans who need immediate care or have COVID-19 that requires hospitalization. 

COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in Idaho, and 91.6 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations from May 15 – Sept. 4, 2021, were not fully vaccinated. Please choose to get vaccinated, wear a mask in public places, and stay home when you are sick. The best defense we have against COVID-19 is the vaccine, and it is safe and effective. You can read all about COVID-19 vaccine safety and monitoring on the Centers for Disease and Prevention website.

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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: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/safety-of-vaccines.html

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.

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A message from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: The Pfizer vaccine is fully licensed, but how does this mRNA vaccine actually work?

On Monday, Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved as fully licensed Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for those 16 and older. Those 12 to 15 years of age can continue to get the vaccine under the current emergency use authorization.

There continues to be misinformation circulating on social media and other communication channels about how the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine actually works. I’d like to set the record straight:

  • Can you get COVID-19 from the vaccine? No.
  • Can you become infertile from the vaccine? No.
  • And, finally, does it alter your DNA? No.

I would like to share with you how an mRNA vaccine works, and why it does not impact your DNA.

First, I’d like to talk about how your immune system works. Your immune system attacks things that look foreign to it. When a germ enters your body, and the immune cells don’t recognize it, your body goes on the attack.

However, building up a system to defeat a germ such as the COVID-19 virus takes time. Your immune system needs to figure out what part of the virus to attack. When your immune system figures it out, it increases the production of what it needs to attack the virus. That takes time, but the virus hasn’t slowed down. As your system is figuring out how to fight off the virus, the virus is infecting your cells and expanding quickly in your body.

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A call to action from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: School is about to start, and we can help keep our kids in the classroom by getting the COVID-19 vaccine

With today’s busy lifestyles, many Idahoans just haven’t found the time to get the COVID-19 vaccine. We know some people just can’t or won’t get the vaccine, but there are others that are looking for a convenient time or place to get vaccinated.

Now is the time.

School is about to start. Our hospitals are starting to feel the strain of more and more COVID patients. Let’s support our teachers, our kids, and our healthcare workers by getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Yesterday, Gov. Brad Little held a press conference at Nampa High School to encourage Idahoans to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Like the Governor, I want Idaho children to attend school in the classroom. I emphatically agree with Gov. Little when he said, “Idaho students are headed back to their classrooms starting next week. As I’ve stated from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our students need to be able to learn in their classrooms with their teachers and peers. Our main defense in ensuring the new school year is entirely in-person – free from outbreaks and quarantines – is the COVID-19 vaccine.”

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: A COVID-19 task force now in place to support local schools; foster parents open their hearts to Idaho children

Back-to-School Task Force

The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) is co-facilitating a Back-to-School Task Force to promote COVID-19 prevention strategies and provide recommendations based on guidance for K-12 schools for safe learning environments. DHW’s goal is to have Idaho’s children attend school safely and in-person throughout Idaho. Sonja Schriever, from the Division of Public Health, and Marilyn Whitney, from the State Department of Education are co-chairs for this taskforce.

Using Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools, the group will concentrate on developing recommendations and support strategies in the following areas:

  • Vaccination support for individuals 12 years old and above
  • COVID-19 prevention: masks, physical distancing, respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick, and more
  • Screening testing
  • Contact tracing and outbreak mitigation
  • Other areas as needed

In addition to DHW staff, task force members include representatives from the State Department of Education, Governor’s Office, Idaho School Boards Association, public health districts, High School Activities Association, School Nurses Organization of Idaho, Idaho Association of School Administrators, Office of School Safety and Security, Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, charter schools, local school boards, a pediatrician, and Parents and Teachers Associations.

I will give updates on the work of the task force in future blog posts.

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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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