COVID-19 Q&A: Vaccine supply, and how to volunteer

Q: Will Idaho receive fewer doses of vaccine now that we know the federal supply has all been distributed and there is no reserve supply?

A: No, Idaho will see a slight increase in vaccine doses starting this week.

After an announcement the week of Jan. 11 by Health and Human Services that it would release all the COVID-19 vaccine it had held in reserve in an effort to speed up the vaccination process, many states, including Idaho, believed more vaccine would be shipped to them than they previously anticipated.

The Department of Health and Welfare, along with other states, learned on Friday that we will not see a large increase in COVID-19 vaccine doses from the previously announced release of second doses. No second doses were held back by the federal government, as expected. However, we have been notified by the federal government that states including Idaho will see a 2-5 percent increase in the number of doses we will receive each week, which amounts to about 950 extra doses each week. At this time, we are anticipating receiving 20,950 doses each week for the foreseeable future.

Along with other states, we are requesting more accurate, timely, and forward-looking estimates of doses Idaho will receive from the federal government. We are committed to being transparent as we quickly work to support enrolled provider organizations as they vaccinate as many people as possible during this rapidly evolving situation.

Q: Will people who have received their first dose still be able to get the second?

A: We expect there will be enough vaccine for Idahoans who have received their first dose to get their second dose of the vaccine. Pfizer and Moderna have assured Health and Human Services (HHS) that manufacturing of the vaccine continues with no issues.

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COVID Q&A: Where to get a vaccine, new virus strain, and vaccine side effects

Q: How and where can I get vaccinated if I don’t have a primary care physician?

A: For people without a primary care physician, access to vaccines may be through places such as your employer, local public health agencies, federally qualified health centers, and pharmacies. As we move from vaccinating healthcare workers to offering vaccine to others, more and more healthcare providers will have vaccine. Currently over 200 healthcare providers have signed up to be able to provide COVID-19 vaccine.

Q: What do we know about the new strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 and is it in Idaho?

A: We are aware that the new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported in the U.S. Idaho Public Health officials and testing laboratories are watching for the variant virus, but we have not detected it yet. Nonetheless, we think it’s probably here, as it is in some nearby states.

The Idaho public health laboratory is participating in a national Strain Surveillance project and is routinely sending COVID positive samples to CDC for sequencing to monitor for new variants. In addition, our public health laboratory also has the capacity to perform gene sequencing of the virus and will be bringing on that capability as soon as possible this year, to provide additional monitoring for mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 genome in Idaho.

At this point, our work to vaccinate healthcare workers and residents and staff in long-term care facilities continues. The expectation of experts is that based on the mutations, the currently available vaccines should still be very effective against this strain.

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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.

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COVID Q&A: Getting vaccinated

How will people know when to get vaccinated?

The Idaho Coronavirus Vaccine Advisory Committee will be discussing this issue in meetings that will be open to the public, and decisions will be publicized through press releases, social media, blog posts like this one, and information at coronavirus.idaho.gov.

If I’ve already had COVID-19, do I need to get vaccinated, too?

There is not enough information currently available to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again. Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, but more studies are needed to better understand this. However, if you have recovered from COVID-19, you may want to wait until others have had a chance to get the vaccine and build some immunity before you consider getting vaccinated.

What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine? Are they similar to other vaccines?

We are going to learn a lot more about this, as FDA releases data this week about the first (Pfzer/BioNTech) vaccine. What we do know so far is that people have reported soreness in the arm after vaccination, headache, fatigue, a general cruddy feeling and achiness, and in a few cases more severe fatigue. Most of these symptoms have cleared up after a couple of days. They are very similar to side effects reported for other vaccines. No serious side effects have been reported to date.

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COVID-19 Q&A: COVID-19 Vaccine

Q: Vaccines for COVID-19 seem to be getting closer to the necessary approvals so they can be distributed to states and then given to residents. Is Idaho ready to receive the vaccine shipments?  

A: Idaho will be ready when the first shipments of the vaccine are sent. We don’t know yet exactly when that will happen, but we anticipate it could be before the end of the year. We have been enrolling healthcare providers, so they can administer the vaccine, and we have purchased seven ultra-cold freezers – one for each of Idaho’s seven local public health districts, to help store vaccines that need to be kept very cold prior to being used throughout the state.

The vaccine will be shipped after Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) is issued by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but will not be administered in the state until a recommendation on its use is issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). It is anticipated that the ACIP recommendation will occur very quickly after the FDA approval. 

The manufacturer of one of the vaccines (Pfizer and BioNTech) requested an EUA on Nov. 20. The FDA’s Vaccine’s & Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) is scheduled to review vaccine data from the manufacturer on Dec. 10 and make a recommendation to the FDA. If the FDA issues an EUA, then ACIP will hold an emergency meeting to consider recommendations for use of the vaccine. Immediately after ACIP’s recommendation, vaccine would be shipped to other vaccine providers from the vaccine manufacturer.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Hospital capacity, getting tested, and Thanksgiving

Q: I keep hearing that hospital officials in Idaho are very concerned about capacity, and they might have to implement crisis standards of care. What does that mean? If I needed life-saving care, would a hospital really turn me away?

A: We have been emphasizing this since the start of the pandemic: Hospitals, including those in Idaho, have limited capacity. When they no longer have enough staff or beds or equipment to treat patients, they will have to divert patients to other hospitals, turn people away if other hospitals are not accepting diverted patients, and possibly set up field hospitals. Healthcare will have to be rationed. Idaho has a Crisis Standards of Care Plan that outlines what this looks like and what would trigger it to be implemented.

However, we don’t want to get to that point!  We can PREVENT it by following the recommended guidelines and wearing a mask when we’re around others who don’t live with us, keeping 6 feet between ourselves and others we don’t live with, washing or sanitizing our hands often, and staying home if we feel sick.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a scientific brief that says that mask-wearing protects others, but it also protects the person wearing it. That’s new, and worth remembering. It’s a very small sacrifice to wear a mask, and when most of us do, it lowers the risk of infection for all of us. That also helps our hospitals and healthcare workers. Fewer people get sick and require hospital-level care, which can be provided when it’s needed.

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COVID Q&A: Family gatherings are COVID-19 hotspots

Q: Where is Idaho seeing the most spread of COVID-19?

A: Public health officials are seeing the most spread in Idaho at smaller gatherings of families and friends, where people are not following the recommended guidelines. We understand — it feels weird to wear a mask around people you know and love. But the reality is that the virus doesn’t care how strange or uncomfortable it feels to stay 6 feet apart and to wear a mask around your friends and family. It will take advantage of the situation and spread among your loved ones if precautions are not taken.

Asymptomatic spread is the most complicated part of the coronavirus. Sometimes people just don’t know they have been infected and they unwittingly infect their friends and family. The solution is simple – everyone should wear face coverings and stay 6 feet apart. It’s very important to be diligent about those simple things to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Testing and Idaho schools

Q: I have heard there are testing programs for teachers and staff in Idaho schools. What are they?

There are a couple of different things happening on the testing front for schools.

The Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee, or CFAC, approved funding for the Department of Health and Welfare(DHW) to help expedite COVID-19 testing for teachers and school staff, specifically for those without insurance or if their insurance will not pay for the testing.

DHW is working very closely with Idaho’s local public health districts on subgrants to assist with agreements with testing entities, contact tracing, outbreaks in the school setting. One of the subgrant activities is for the local public health districts to implement agreements with testing facilities in their area. This helps to prioritize testing for teachers and school staff.

There are also funds in these subgrants to reimburse the testing facilities the PHDs have agreements with for the uninsured or underinsured teachers and school staff. DHW is also working on agreements with pharmacies, labs, and businesses to prioritize testing for teachers and school staff.

The agreements we’re implementing are for PCR tests (the gold standard for testing) that can be self-administered by teachers and school staff. The tests can be done at home and include a prepaid overnight shipping envelope to send to the contacted laboratories.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Counting cases associated with Idaho schools

Q: The state has started posting a weekly summary of the number COVID-19 cases that are reported in each school. How are those numbers compiled?

A: Gathering case counts associated with schools is not an easy process. Information is gathered by state public health epidemiologists from local public health reports, media stories, and school reporting, and are limited to available information.

Disease tracking is based on a person’s usual place of legal residence. Local public health districts don’t know what school a child attends until they do the case investigation, and the parent agrees to provide that information. Public health officials will know some basic demographic information such as age and sex of the child, but they won’t know the school a child attends until a case investigation is conducted and the information is provided. If a parent isn’t able to be contacted or doesn’t provide the name of the school their child attends, then public health won’t know that information.

The weekly summary is not complete, but it is the best information we can provide at the state level at a certain point in time to give parents and others an idea for how COVID-19 is affecting their schools. We continue to work to improve this system and provide as much information as possible so that parents, school officials, teachers, and others can use it to make informed decisions as the pandemic continues.

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COVID Q&A: Schools

As children go back to school, parents are confused about some of the guidelines, especially about when they should keep a child home from school. When should a child be kept home?

The school setting has a large influence on your child’s health and well-being. The school environment provides educational instruction, supports social and emotional skills, safety, speech, mental health, nutrition, and opportunities for physical activity. If your child is participating in in-person classes, they can attend unless they are sick with symptoms of COVID-19 or other illnesses or have been exposed to a positive case of COVID-19.

It is important to help your child promote behaviors that reduce the spread of infections including social distancing, washing hands, and wearing cloth face coverings.

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