COVID-19 Q&A: Traveling during the pandemic

As summer approaches, and beaches and campsites beckon, it’s still important to keep in mind that we are not out of the woods yet as far as the pandemic goes. Travel is possible, with a little homework ahead of time and adherence to precautions to avoid spreading COVID-19.

However, please don’t travel if you were recently exposed to COVID-19you are sick, you test positive for COVID-19, or you are waiting for results of a COVID-19 test. And please don’t travel with someone who is sick.

Q: Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine while I’m in Idaho for vacation?

A: Yes – Idaho has lifted its restriction that people have to live or work in the state to get vaccinated. Everyone ages 16 and older can get vaccinated in Idaho, regardless of where they live or work. Vaccine eligibility is expected to be expanded to include 12-15 year-olds later this week,

Q: What if I am not yet fully vaccinated or vaccinated at all and must travel?  

A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated, because travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.

For those who are not fully vaccinated and must travel, the CDC recommends the following steps to protect yourself and others from COVID-19:

  • Before you travel:
    • Get tested with a viral test 1-3 days before your trip. Don’t travel if the test is positive.
  • While you are traveling:
    • Wear a mask over your nose and mouth. Masks are required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.
    • Avoid crowds and stay at least 6 feet/2 meters (about 2 arm lengths) from anyone who is not traveling with you.
    • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.
  • After you travel:
    • Get tested with a viral test 3-5 days after travel AND stay home and self-quarantine for a full 7 days after travel.
      • Even if you test negative, stay home and self-quarantine for the full 7 days.
      • If your test is positive, isolate yourself to protect others from getting infected.
    • If you don’t get tested, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.
    • Avoid being around people who are at increased risk for severe illness for 14 days, whether you get tested or not.
    • Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms; isolate and get tested if you develop symptoms.
    • Follow all state and local recommendations or requirements.
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COVID-Q&A: Grant funding for mobile clinics is now available

In an effort to provide vaccination opportunities to everyone 16 and older where they live, work, and play, the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) announced a new funding opportunity last week to establish and operate mobile, off-site, walk-in, and special COVID-19 vaccination clinics in underserved communities, including racial and ethnic minority populations and rural communities, among others.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Vaccine safety

Q: Can COVID-19 vaccine cause infertility in men and women?

A: There is no scientific evidence to suggest the vaccine causes infertility. In addition, infertility is not known to occur from natural COVID-19 infection, further indicating that immune responses to the virus, whether induced by infection or a vaccine, are not a cause of infertility.

Q: How did COVID-19 vaccines get approved so quickly? Are they safe?

A: Production of the COVID-19 vaccines began sooner than is typical. Normally, production starts after a pharmaceutical company completes the development stage for a vaccine, which includes rigorous testing for safety and effectiveness. Every vaccine goes through a series of reviews and approvals by the FDA and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), among others. In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, the federal government invested taxpayer dollars to encourage pharmaceutical companies to start production before the development stage completed.

The vaccines are still going through the same rigorous testing for safety and effectiveness, review, and approval process. However, because pharmaceutical companies began manufacturing the vaccine during the clinical trials, they were able to make the vaccines available as soon as they were given an emergency use authorization.

By all accounts, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are safe and effective. The recent recommendation for a pause on the Johnson &Johnson vaccine illustrates how seriously Idaho and the rest of the nation takes vaccine safety. Ultimately, vaccines  are the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Johnson & Johnson vaccine and severe adverse effects

Q: Why are Idaho and the nation calling for a pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

A: The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) is recommending that Idaho vaccine providers not use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine until more information is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  This recommendation was made after the department received information that the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are reviewing data for six reported cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot, combined with low platelet counts, in individuals who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Vaccine safety is the nation’s and Idaho’s No. 1 priority. The CDC and FDA have recommended a pause in administering the vaccine until additional information is available for healthcare providers about evaluation and treatment of this rare adverse event among people who have been vaccinated. The Idaho Immunization Program has notified Idaho providers.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: We are focused on sharing accurate and timely information related to COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines

The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) spends time every day making sure we share accurate and timely information in various ways including: our weekly media briefings, our website, social media, and answering questions directly from members of the public and the media.

The reality is that telling the truth saves lives. When Idahoans have access to accurate information, they can make informed decisions about their own health and the health of their families and communities. We continue to remain dedicated to keeping the people of Idaho safe through accurate information.

I would encourage you to use trusted sources for information when sharing COVID-related information. You can find the latest and most accurate information on COVID-19 at the following websites, as well as on the department’s social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter:

Data Dashboards

The DHW data teams have worked diligently every day to make sure Idahoans have the data they need to make informed decisions during the past year. We have made some changes to how often the data on the dashboards will be updated to allow them to have weekends off. The new update schedule for the data dashboards is as follows:

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COVID-19 Q&A: Breakthrough cases and variants

Q: Are we seeing cases of disease among Idahoans who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19? How many of those people have been hospitalized? Have there been any deaths?

A: We have seen some “breakthrough cases,” which is the term being used to refer to people who have been fully vaccinated, but who have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.

Breakthrough cases are expected since no vaccine offers 100 percent protection against illness. COVID-19 vaccines are the best protection we have against serious illness and death, in addition to the recommended guidelines. And the data bears that out. The good news, so far, is that people who develop COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated have experienced mostly mild to moderate illness.

Of the 105 cases reported as of today, only three have had to be hospitalized, and there have been no deaths. The three who were hospitalized had medical conditions that increased their risk for serious illness.

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COVID-19 Q&A: Idaho’s COVID-19 Vaccine Pre-Registration System

Join us at 10 a.m. Wednesday on Facebook Live when DHW Deputy Director Lori Wolff will discuss Idaho’s COVID-19 Vaccine Pre-Registration System, and then will take questions from viewers. https://www.facebook.com/IdahoHealthandWelfare

Idaho’s COVID-19 Vaccine Pre-Registration System allows Idahoans, and those who work in Idaho, who want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to save their names to a statewide list that is available to vaccine providers who have open appointments and COVID-19 vaccine. People can add their names at any time, whether they are currently eligible or not, and a provider will contact them when it’s their turn and there is an open appointment.

The statewide schedule for vaccines has been updated to our website and opens vaccine according to the following schedule:

  • March 15: Age 55-64 with at least one medical condition*
  • March 22: Age 55-64 general population
  • March 29: Age 45-54 with at least one medical condition*
  • April 5: Age 45-54 general population
  • April 12: 16 – 44 with at least one medical condition*
  • April 26: Age 16 – 44 general population

Medical conditions are defined as “are at increased risk” and “might be at increased risk” per the CDC. Visit the CDC to see a full list of conditions that qualify as a medical condition. In addition, disabilities are also included as a medical condition. 

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COVID-19 Q&A: Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

Idaho received 13,300 doses of the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine the week of March 1. We are not expecting additional shipments of the vaccine until late March, based on information from the manufacturer and the federal government. It was approved under Emergency Use Authorization on Feb. 27, 2021. On Feb. 28, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended use of the vaccine in people 18 years and older.

Adding Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine to our toolbox means more people can get vaccinated, which increases the overall population protected from severe disease, hospitalization, and even death.

Having different types of vaccines available for use, especially ones with different dosing recommendations and storage and handling requirements, can offer more options and flexibility for the public and vaccine providers.

Is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine an mRNA vaccine like Pfizer and Moderna?

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-dose recombinant (combined genetic material) vector (vehicle) vaccine. Recombinant vaccines use one virus to carry a small piece of genetic material from another virus to trigger an immune response in the body. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a modified adenovirus to carry the gene for the SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) spike protein genetic material. The virus can enter cells but can’t replicate inside them or cause illness. The body’s immune system detects the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and generates antibodies. 

It does not require ultra-cold storage, like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do. Storage and handling of this vaccine is similar to many other vaccines. It must be stored at refrigerated temperatures between 36°- 46°F (2°-8°C). It is easy to transport and store and allows for expanded availability in most community settings and mobile sites, as supply scales up.

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COVID-19: New services for Idahoans who want to quit tobacco

All Idahoans who want to quit tobacco products, including cigarettes, chew, and vapes, have access to free programs to help them on their quit journey. In addition to the current programs for adults, youth, pregnant women, and tribal members who have decided it’s time to quit, the Department of Health and Welfare and Project Filter are pleased to provide a free and enhanced tobacco cessation program for adults 18 and older who are living with conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD, and substance use disorders.

Communities are facing increased mental health challenges during the pandemic, including stress, depression, suicidal ideation, and higher substance use. Quitting tobacco improves mental health and can provide people with the tools to quit other substance addictions as well.

People who report mental health and substance use disorders also have higher rates of tobacco use and lower rates of quitting. In fact, more than one-third of all tobacco used in the United States is consumed by people who also have a behavioral health condition.

More than half of QuitLine callers report at least one condition and nearly 1 in 3 callers report multiple behavioral health conditions that impact their ability to quit tobacco. People with behavioral health conditions may want to quit, but they often need more intensive support to help with stress.

As part of the new program, participants receive:

  • Seven scheduled telephone coaching sessions over three months, focused on coping techniques to manage stress, and development of a personalized quit plan.
  • Specially trained tobacco treatment coaches who understand behavioral health conditions.
  • Nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) for 8 weeks with combinations of patch, gum, or lozenges.
  • A personalized welcome package including educational materials and the My Quit Journey© workbook.
  • A suite of eHealth services to supplement telephone coaching, including customized email and text messages, online chat, and interactive online resources.
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COVID-19 Q&A: Vaccine administered vs. distributed, new online resource, new vaccines, and getting vaccinated after COVID

Q: Where are the COVID-19 vaccine doses Idaho has received but not administered?

A: Vaccine doses are sent directly from the manufacturers to the providers, based on orders they receive from the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW). DHW places orders for the vaccine as soon as they are available based on discussions with the local public health districts. The local public health districts are in contact with vaccine providers in their counties. DHW is not storing any doses or holding any doses back.

If doses that have already been administered are not showing up in Idaho’s Immunization Reminder Information System (IRIS), it could be because there is a slight data lag (providers have 72 hours to submit data about administration of each dose), or because providers have not administered them yet. Staff are also troubleshooting some technical issues we have discovered with IRIS and other data vendors that have caused some data for doses administered to not show up in IRIS. We have hired additional staff to help find those corrupt files and fix them so they show up in IRIS.

Q: Where can I find information to schedule an appointment for get a vaccine?  

A: Idaho launched a new COVID-19 vaccination information web page on Friday to help Idahoans more easily find information on when and where to get vaccinated and what to expect when they get to their appointment. The new web page is https://healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/covid-19-vaccination. It’s also available by link at coronavirus.idaho.gov.

Local public health districts are responsible for implementing vaccination plans. Enrolled COVID-19 vaccine provider information is available on each public health district website, but the new state web page offers just one place where all Idahoans can find out when they are eligible to receive the vaccine and where to access enrolled COVID-19 vaccine provider organizations in their area.

The state web page also tells Idahoans which priority groups, by occupation and age, are next in line for the vaccine. It will be updated on a regular basis.

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