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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COVID-19 Q&A: The Delta variant is more contagious

What is the Delta variant and what should I know about it?

The COVID-19 virus Delta variant has mutations, or changes, from the original virus strain. The Delta variant is more contagious and spreads more than twice as easily from one person to another, compared with earlier strains. Areas where many people are not vaccinated have more cases of COVID-19, and we are in a race against time to vaccinate more people before new variants form.

Higher numbers of vaccinated people lower the chance for the virus to spread and help prevent new variants. Data show that the vaccines are preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death, and work well against the Delta variant. Vaccination is the best way to protect you, your family, and your community.

Should vaccinated people worry they are spreading the virus?

Although the COVID-19 vaccines offer protection, they are not perfect. There will be vaccine breakthrough infections. However, breakthrough infections represent a very small number of cases around the country, and less than 1 percent of cases in Idaho. In addition, infections among vaccinated people are much less likely to result in serious illness, hospitalization, or death.

If you get vaccinated, your risk of infection is around 3.5-fold lower than if you had not gotten vaccinated, your risk of getting ill from COVID is over 8-fold lower, and your risk of hospitalization or death is around 25-fold lower.

There is evidence that some vaccinated people can spread the virus if they get infected with the Delta variant; that is why it is important that in areas of substantial and high transmission, vaccinated people wear a mask in public indoors to prevent spread and protect themselves and others.

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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.

Continue reading “From DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Why I chose to get vaccinated; and an update on our five-year strategic plan”

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.

Continue reading “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”

COVID-19: An explanation of different data on Idaho and CDC dashboards for updated mask guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance last week for people to wear masks indoors in public areas, regardless of vaccination status, where community spread is substantial or high. The CDC’s map uses different measures to determine the rate of transmission than measures the Idaho’s COVID-19 Dashboard depicts. Idaho’s dashboard is maintained by the Division of Public Health in the Department of Health and Welfare.

We strongly encourage everyone to follow the CDC guidance and wear a mask indoors in public areas where the rate of transmission is substantial or high. The only way we’ll beat the virus that causes COVID-19 is by limiting its ability to spread and mutate yet again into another variant of public health concern. We’re in a race against the virus, and vaccination is still the best protection against serious illness, hospitalization, and even death from COVID-19. But the Delta variant is a worthy foe and vaccination rates aren’t high enough to keep it in check. So wearing a mask is important again.

But we also understand how confusing it is that the data on the CDC’s site and on Idaho’s dashboard don’t match, and we’d like to explain why that is.

The CDC is using case rates or molecular testing percent positivity to calculate the community rate of COVID-19 transmission. Here are explanations for why the data are different on both sites.

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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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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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