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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An Update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Are you fully vaccinated?

More than 435,000 Idahoans are now fully vaccinated, and another ~146,000 Idahoans have received one dose of a two-dose series. If you are one of the 16 and older Idahoans who have chosen to get the COVID-19 vaccine, I want to thank you for protecting yourself, your family and friends, and your community.

One quick reminder: Anyone 16 and older is now eligible to get the vaccine, and the vaccine is free to you. There are no out-of-pocket costs.

Many people in Idaho have chosen to get the vaccine as soon as it was available. There are others who are busy with kids or work or other priorities and are waiting to get the vaccine when it is more convenient. In the coming weeks, you will see vaccine providers (such as local pharmacies) working to make the vaccine more easily available to you.

You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after your second dose in the two-dose series of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. If you received the J&J vaccine before the pause, you are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after getting the shot.

What happens after you are fully vaccinated?

If you have been fully vaccinated:

  • You can gather indoors with others who are fully vaccinated, and no mask is needed.
  • You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • If you’ve been around someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms.

For now, even if you are fully vaccinated, there are some things that have not changed just yet. For example:

  • You should avoid medium or large gatherings.
  • You should still watch for symptoms of COVID-19.
  • You still need to follow guidance at your workplace.
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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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An Update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

The news this week that there have been six reported cases of a rare and severe blood clot in women between the ages of 18 and 48 who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is not the kind of news we welcome, but I am reassured, as I hope you are, that recommending a pause in the use of the vaccine was the right thing to do and helps show that we all take vaccine safety very seriously.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) issued a press release 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 receiving information that the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also recommended a pause in the use of that vaccine and are reviewing the data for the six reported cases. All 50 states have made this same recommendation.

On Wednesday, April 14, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met and did not put forth any formal recommendations during this meeting. Voting members are waiting for additional data for a more robust risk-benefit analysis, and that should be available to them next week. Additional discussion may address restrictions for vaccine use in highest risk populations, possibly by age or gender.

Although this is not news we were expecting, this is exactly what is supposed to happen with any new vaccine or drug or protocol: if there is an unexpected adverse reaction, there is a pause to review the data and then refine recommendations. The safety system in the United States works. The FDA and the CDC made the right decision to temporarily halt the use of this vaccine.

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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: I’m Encouraging all Idahoans to Choose to get the COVID-19 Vaccine

I want to encourage you to choose to get your COVID-19 vaccine. Starting Monday, April 5, all Idahoans 16 and older are eligible to get the vaccine through enrolled vaccine providers in Idaho.

You can sign up today at covidvaccine.idaho.gov, and a vaccine provider will call you to schedule your appointment. Thanks to Idaho’s pre-registration system, you don’t have make numerous calls or visit numerous locations to get your vaccine. We will do the work for you.

Choosing to get the COVID-19 vaccine will help keep you from getting COVID-19. It protects you from very serious illness and hospitalization if you do get infected. Choosing to get vaccinated protects the people around you, especially your family members and friends who are at increased risk of getting severe illness from COVID-19. And choosing to get vaccinated is the best shot we have to keep our kids in the classroom, protect jobs, and return to normal.

The COVID-19 vaccines have been carefully evaluated and are safe and effective. On April 1, 100 COVID-19 infections had been reported among fully vaccinated people in Idaho. These infections represent less than 0.5% of the Idahoans who are now fully vaccinated.

To date, more than 298,000 Idahoans (this includes those who work in Idaho) have been fully vaccinated. This number is those people who have received both doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

If you have any questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, you can visit our FAQ page which is updated regularly.

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From Director Dave Jeppesen: Listening to the public during a pandemic; All Idahoans 16 and older eligible for the vaccine on April 5

Listening to the public during a pandemic – and providing answers that make a difference

The Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) has a long history of providing services and reliable information to Idahoans. Even so, we knew from the early days of the pandemic that we couldn’t simply rely on decades of experience and our tried-and-tested communication practices with Idahoans and our partners. This is because we have all faced new challenges every day, that have affected each of us in different ways. We realized we had to listen in new ways.

So last April, we made the most of what 2020 had to offer, and we took to communicating with digital formats. We began a new listening initiative, where we made our subject matter experts available to the public to answer questions. One of these initiatives makes Facebook Live videos a weekly priority. We invite questions from the public, and each week one of our staff members goes live on Facebook with their answers. Our communications staff keep an eye on the comments in the video feeds as well, and stay engaged to make sure we understand whether we are getting it right – are we answering your questions? Are we providing the information you need that will help you to navigate through these uncertain times?

We have broadcast 43 Facebook Live events since April 2020, and we continue to listen to questions and share information in the videos. The topics we cover depend on what we are hearing from Idahoans: Is the vaccine safe? How does the Idaho COVID-19 Vaccine Pre-Registration System work? What is my vaccine priority group? What will the pandemic do to our mental health, and what can we do to cope?

We consider the questions and identify the experts within our ranks who know the answers. Depending on the questions we hear, our featured experts may specialize in immunizations, epidemiology, behavioral health, public health recommendations such as what kinds of gatherings are higher or lower in risk, and more.

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A Reminder from Director Dave Jeppesen: Choosing to get the COVID-19 Vaccine Will Protect Your Friends, Family, and Community

As we catch a glimpse of normalcy returning to Idaho, we are feeling a sense of hope due to the arrival of three effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines. March Madness is back, friends and family are planning summer vacations, and Sunday dinners with vaccinated grandparents are (mostly) back on schedule.

But hope is fragile. It is based on our belief systems and our choices. It is based on the expectation of a positive ending. In this case, the end of the pandemic.

Hope, for me, is based on the choices thousands of Idahoans are making every day. Idahoans are choosing to get the vaccine. They are choosing to protect their friends, family, and community. They are choosing to keep schools open, support local businesses, and believe in the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.  

I am encouraging all Idahoans to choose to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccines have been tested by more than 70,000 Americans. Millions of Americans have now received the vaccine. It is safe and effective.

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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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From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Marking the milestone one-year anniversary of COVID-19 in Idaho

The one-year anniversary of the first case of COVID-19 in Idaho is coming up on Saturday, March 13.

For many of us, it’s been the longest year of our lives. We’ve sacrificed gatherings with family and friends, hugs and in-person time with grandma and grandpa and other people at high-risk for serious illness, as well as travel and vacations. We have learned to work from home, or had our work dramatically reduced or stopped, and had our lives mostly upended by this insidious virus.

Many of us weren’t able to watch our kids at their sporting events and competitions. We’ve worn masks whenever we’re in public places where we can’t maintain at least 6 feet between us.

And too many of us have made the greatest involuntary sacrifice of all with the COVID-related death of a loved one.

I want to thank you all for the sacrifices you’ve made in the past year because of the pandemic. I know it has not been easy.

But I am encouraged by recent trends in COVID-19 data. Testing percent positivity is less than 5 percent and has been for the past couple of weeks. Case numbers have fallen and now seem to be leveling off. Hospitalizations have decreased. The number of Idahoans getting vaccinated increases each day.

Every day, we’re getting closer to getting back to normal.

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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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