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Federal Judge Says Idaho’s Vaccine Priorities Were Justified

Idaho Federal Building United States Courthouse (3)
Frankie Barnhill
Boise State Public Radio

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the state brought by a Magic Valley man who claimed Idaho's COVID-19 vaccination plan discriminated against some seniors.

Richard Byrd, who lives in Rogerson, was 87 years old in January when he filed the suit against Gov. Brad Little and state health and welfare director Dave Jeppesen. Byrd asked that the case be expedited as a “life or death matter.”

Byrd said the state unconstitutionally prioritized healthcare workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine before those 65 and older. Seniors are more at risk of dying after contracting the coronavirus.

He also claimed residents in nursing homes were getting preferential treatment over seniors living elsewhere since they became eligible for a vaccine sooner.

State officials opened up eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to all Idahoans 65 and older on Feb. 1, but Byrd said in a later filing that he and his wife called multiple clinics and couldn’t schedule an appointment to receive one.

He asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to intervene in the matter on Feb. 5 in the hopes that it would be resolved more quickly, but the court declined to do so in March.

Federal district court Judge David Nye ultimately dismissed the suit May 18 at the request of the state and from Byrd himself.

Nye said the issue is moot, since Byrd got vaccinated in March.

The judge acknowledged seniors do have a higher risk of death after contracting the coronavirus.

“However, these facts alone do not amount to a concrete and particularized injury, because Byrd himself has not suffered an injury,” Nye wrote.

He also ruled that Byrd’s argument didn’t sufficiently show how the state’s plan put his life in imminent danger.

“Overall, Byrd’s complaint projects a far too hypothetical injury, and it is only ‘merely speculative’ that this injury would be redressed by a favorable decision by the Court,” Nye wrote.

As for Byrd’s claim that residents of long-term care facilities received preferential treatment, the judge ruled that simply being the same age doesn’t mean they live in similar situations.

“Residents of long-term care facilities live in aggregate communities, whereas the individuals are subject to contact with a more significant number of people than individuals living in separate spaces, like Byrd.”

In dismissing the case, Nye also ordered the matter to be closed permanently with no ability for Byrd to refile or amend his lawsuit.

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!