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Vaccine Shipment Shortfall Means Some Idaho Health Care Workers Will Miss Out

A needle with measurements on the side going into an unmarked vaccine vial.
Adobe Stock
Adobe Stock

The manager of Idaho’s vaccination program says every single one of Idaho’s initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine should be given to patients – not held in reserve. 

Sarah Leeds told health care providers at Friday’s Coronavirus Vaccine Advisory Committee meeting not to stockpile doses, even as it becomes clear that the state will receive fewer vaccines in coming weeks than expected.

Leeds, who is in charge of Idaho’s vaccination program, said misinformation had been circulating among the medical community that some doses should be set aside. 

“The 13,650 doses we have in Idaho are dose one – they’re all for dose one,” she said.

State officials gave the first 13,650 doses to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. 

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, with the second injection given three weeks after the first. 

Pharmacies with freezers cold enough to store the Pfizer vaccine have been contracted by the state to warehouse doses specifically for long-term care facility staff. More than 40% of Idaho’s COVID-19 deaths have originated in long-term care facilities.

Idaho’s next shipment will contain 9,500 doses – about 45% less than expected. This means that only 1,950 doses will be available for health care workers next week; the first 7,550 doses are slated for the long-term care staff.

“That’s incredibly disappointing, but it’s what we’re dealing with right now,” Leeds said.

As of Thursday night, the state reported 944 vaccines had been administered -- but that data can lag behind by as many as four days.

The federal Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of Moderna’s two-dose coronavirus vaccine Friday. Idaho is in line to receive 28,000 initial doses.

Moderna’s vaccine can be stored at warmer temperatures than Pfizer’s, but it still requires a freezer.

At Friday’s meeting, the vaccine committee also clarified the order in which health care workers will be vaccinated.

Medical imaging techs at hospitals, group adult daycare staff, and home health care workers whose clients are over 65 will be included in the groups to first receive a vaccine.

Family members of health care workers will not be prioritized simply because they live in the same home.

The committee did not include workers in medical facilities who handle biohazardous waste, like used needles, surgical gloves or soiled sheets.

Dr. Casi Wyatt, with Sawtooth Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases, said some people in high-risk groups will not have first access to the Pfizer vaccine.

“I have an outpatient clinic where we are actively caring for COVID-positive patients and my employees who have direct interaction [with these patients] every day can’t access the vaccine in weeks one, two, or three,” Wyatt said.

The committee also voted against giving priority to those who drive older or significantly ill patients to medical appointments; this proposal would have given such drivers a vaccine before paramedics and EMTs.

The vaccine committee delayed a vote that was planned to determine the priority of other high-risk groups waiting for a vaccine: including school nurses, optometrists, and prison inmates requiring long-term care.

Idaho’s Coronavirus Vaccine Advisory Committee will meet next on Jan. 8.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!