Friday, May 14, 2021
Idaho’s COVID Picture Improves as Some Places Get Creative With Vaccines
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Christopher Bustos masks up to protect himself and others from COVID as he rakes wood chips onto a path at the Hope Garden as Syringa Mountain School students turned out to help The Hunger Coalition for Earth Day.
   
Friday, April 23, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

GRAPH BY PAUL RIES

Idaho’s COVID-19 seven-day moving case average has been trending downward, in stark contrast to most states where the number of new cases is spiking again.

All Idaho counties are averaging fewer than 25 new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period  for the first time in “many, many months,” Idaho Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen told reporters in this week’s COVID media briefing.

 
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Idaho reported 234 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday for a total of 185,993 since the pandemic began. So far, 2,028 Idahoans have died of COVID
 

In fact, it’s been 10 months since the average was that low.

The statewide positivity rate dropped to 4.8 percent this past week, below the goal of 5 percent. And the number of long-term care facilities with active outbreaks continues to decline as more residents are vaccinated. Only 54 care facilities of about 400 are currently experiencing outbreaks.

“However, hospitalizations remain higher than we would like,” Jeppesen said, “But they have stabilized in the past week.”

To date 435,755 of Idaho’s 1.79 million residents are fully vaccinated as the state closes in on administering nearly 1 million doses. That includes more than 70 percent of Idaho’s seniors. But the state saw a decline in the number of vaccines administered last week—the first time that’s happened since the vaccine rollout began in mid-December.

That is in part due to the pause of distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But some is due to vaccine hesitancy or people being too busy to fit vaccinations into their schedule.

Despite Gov. Brad Little’s insistence that Idaho get vaccines out within about a week of their arrival, Idaho’s current administration rate is 73.1 percent compared to 80 percent nationally.

“The state has 3.5 week’s worth of inventory, where we like to see one or two,” acknowledged Jeppesen. “We’re fast approaching the point where we have more vaccine than demand.”

Officials did expect to see some appointments for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine cancelled after the distribution of the vaccine was paused following reports that six women had developed blood clots after receiving the vaccine.

But that’s very rare, ranging from as low as .5 per 100,000 cases to two people per 100,000, said State Epidemiologist Christine Hahn. Seven million people got the vaccine and six women developed blood clots.

In contrast, early estimates indicate that the vaccine saved 3,500 people and prevented 135,000 hospitalizations before it was paused, according to Dr. jim Souza, chief medical officer for St. Luke’s Health System.

 The Centers for Disease Control will vote today on whether to resume use of the vaccine, resume it for select groups or to continue the pause.

Idaho has administered nearly 30,000 doses of Janssen vaccine and not had any reports or problems, Hahn added.

“The other two vaccines have a glowing safety record so we encourage people to get those in the meantime,” she said. “And a study out of Israel suggests the Pfizer vaccine has good efficacy against the U.K. variant, which is our predominant variant.”

In fact, new daily cases of coronavirus are down 98 percent in Israel, which leads the world in vaccination rates. The success has prompted the country to lift its outdoor mask mandate.

A RACE AGAINST VARIANTS

Getting vaccines into arms as soon as possible is crucial in the face of more transmissible, more dangerous variants, health officials say.

A case in Kentucky points out just how vulnerable populations are until enough people are vaccinated to tamp down the spread of the virus.

An unvaccinated worker infected with a COVID variant sparked an outbreak at a Kentucky nursing home where nearly all the residents had been inoculated. Forty-six residents and staff were infected with three dying, including two who were not vaccinated. Though 90 percent of the 83 residents had received their doses, only half of the 116 workers had been inoculated at the time of the outbreak.

SHOTS FOR SHOTS

Louisiana is getting down to brass tacks with its vaccine delivery. The state has enlisted brass bands to play at 24-hour drive-through vaccine sites. It’s staged pop-up clinics at a Buddhist temple, homeless shelters, truck stops and casinos and delivered doses to commercial fishermen at the docks. Now, it’s taking vaccines door to door in neighborhoods where few people have gotten the shot, according to the Associated Press.

New Orleans has partnered with a bar near the French Quarter in a “shots for shots” promotion, rewarded those getting vaccines with a drink. Doctors in Alaska are taking PowerPoint presentations to Rotary Club luncheons and PTA meetings to answer questions about vaccination. And they’ve even chipped in to create a lottery with a cash prize for those who get vaccinated at large sites.

Meanwhile, Bhutan is taking vaccine doses to remote areas of the Himalayas via helicopters and treks.

WHAT’S IDAHO DOING?

Idaho is trying to ramp up mobile clinics and pop-in home visits, aided by a new mobile unit awarded by FEMA to Saint Alphonsus. And health officials are working with economic advisory committees to reach businesses, said Public Health Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch.

“We’re getting vaccine to the people and we’re getting people to the vaccine,” she added.

There are some bright spots. While Boise State University isn’t following the lead of Notre Dame, Rutgers, Cornell and other colleges in requiring students to be vaccinated, 881 BSU students recently took part in a mass vaccination clinic on campus.

The Boise School District is considering hosting vaccine clinics for its students 16 and older. And closer to home, Luke’s Pharmacy recently dispensed 75 vaccines on one day—not an insignificant number for a small town pharmacy.

Hahn said Pfizer has applied for emergency use authorization for children ages 12 through 15. They hope to begin vaccinating youth in that age group before the next school year.

The Pfizer vaccine may be even more effective in young adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 than in adults, company officials have reported. No symptomatic infections were found among children aged 12 to 15 who took part in a clinical trial. And none of the children experienced serious side effects.

“This is amazing,” Akiko Iwasaki an immunologist at Yale University told the New York Times about the trial. “If the vaccine’s performance in adults was A-plus, the results in children were A-plus-plus.”

It’s good news, considering Canada is battling a surge fueled by the variants that is affecting young people more severely than before.

The State of Washington is not only seeing hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases increasing, but it’s seeing a sharp increase in the number of young adults who are hospitalized.

A YEAR’S WORTH OF DATA ON VACCINES

Nearly 5,000 Americans died of COVID-19 this past week. And more than 43,000 are hospitalized with the virus, in part because of the variants.

The U.K. variant remains the most dominant variant in Idaho, followed by two California variants, said Dr. Christopher Ball, whose lab is sequencing a hundred samples a week from all parts of the state. The state identified two cases of the South Africa variant but has not seen any more in recent weeks.

You have a 0.008 percent chance of getting COVID after being fully vaccinated., according to the Centers for Disease Control. As of April 13, 5,800 breakthrough infections have been reported among the 75-million-plus Americans fully vaccinated. Only 7 percent became seriously ill.

To date, 166 fully vaccinated Idahoans have contracted COVID, which was to be expected because no vaccine is 100 percent effective, said Dr. Kathryn Turner. Those involved range in age from 18 to 100; a third are 65 and older; another third, 40 to 64 years of age, and the remaining third, under 30.

Nine of 10 are female, which flies in the face of national data.

“People in clinical trials are now close to a year out of having taken the vaccine,” noted Hahn. We don’t know the long-term effects of COVID yet. But we do know some of short-term effects are pretty dire. It’s not like getting the cold or flu and then you’re done. Some of those who have been infected have pretty serious long-term effects.”

Nobody knows exactly what percentage of the population needs to be immune to achieve full herd immunity. Ninety percent of a population must be vaccinated against measles to prevent an outbreak.

“Even though we’re not there with Idaho, we also we know we have some protection in the population from people who have had COVID,” said Hahn. “We still recommend that those who have had COVID get vaccinated because little is known about the quality of that immunity or how long it will last.”


 

 

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