With coronavirus cases surging across Idaho and health-care systems operating under unprecedented pressure, a state committee on Friday took a procedural step toward getting a vaccine distributed as early as possible—if and when one is approved for use by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
On the heels of a decision by the Idaho COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee to recommend the state accept “early distribution” of a coronavirus vaccine, drug maker Pfizer on Monday announced that an analysis of its two-dose vaccine indicated it was 90 percent effective in late-stage clinical trials. Pfizer officials said the company plans to ask the FDA later this month for emergency authorization to distribute the vaccine for public use. Pfizer officials have said the company could have enough doses to immunize some 15 million to 20 million people by the end of 2020. Other manufacturers are also developing vaccines.
If the state pursues early distribution, it would “allow the vaccine to reach enrolled providers 24 to 48 hours sooner than the standard distribution process,” a news release from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare states.
“This would not compromise our commitment to providing a safe and effective vaccine for Idahoans,” said Sarah Leeds, Idaho Immunization Program manager. “And it would help us get a small number of doses of the vaccine here sooner, so we could administer it to some Idahoans sooner.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is asking every state in the nation if it wants to accept early distribution of an approved vaccine. The decision is ultimately up to each state’s governor. If Idaho proceeds with early distribution, a limited number of doses of the vaccine would be sent to the state to be stored once an emergency use authorization is secured from the FDA, but it would not be administered in the state until a recommendation is issued by the federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare stated.
An approved vaccine would likely be made available first to health-care providers, essential workers, adults 65 and older, and adults under 65 with high-risk conditions.
COVID cases mounting, hospitals getting overwhelmed
As efforts to procure a vaccine move forward, the coronavirus continues to spread in Idaho. Last week, the state registered four new record single-day increases in confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, ending the week with 1,403 new cases on Saturday. An additional 649 new cases were recorded Sunday and 1,266 on Monday, bringing the state’s total case count since March to 74,227. As of Monday night, Blaine County had recorded 942 confirmed and 60 probable cases. Coronavirus is considered to be a contributing factor in the deaths of 698 Idahoans, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reported.
Dr. Joshua Kern, vice president of medical affairs for St. Luke’s in the Magic Valley, Jerome and Wood River Valley, said the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center, in Twin Falls, has prompted the hospital to limit some services and divert some patients to other health-care facilities. The regional hospital has paused performing elective surgeries requiring an overnight stay “due to capacity concerns,” he said, and “has had to transfer patients to St. Luke’s Boise and other area facilities.” Pediatric patients needing admission will be transferred to other facilities, Kern said, with a short list of exceptions. Younger patients who are at least 14 years old, at least 40 kilograms in weight and not positive for COVID can be admitted to an adult bed. Patients fewer than 28 days old and COVID-free can be admitted to the hospital’s ICU for newborns.
“Over the past weekend, [St. Luke’s Magic Valley] has had to divert all admits at times,” Kern said. “We are shifting resources as much as possible to avoid doing so, but, unfortunately, it has been necessary at times.”
At the Twin Falls hospital, 39 COVID-19 patients were being treated on Monday. Kern said two COVID patients were admitted to St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center on Sunday.
Kern said about one-third of the patients admitted at St. Luke’s Magic Valley are for COVID.
“It’s alarming and unprecedented for that many people to be admitted for the same virus,” he said. “In addition, these patients require a higher level of isolation techniques and extra resources. What is equally concerning is that the number of cases continue to set records and we know that hospitalizations lag cases by two to three weeks. Sadly, we are also seeing about one to two deaths per day. If people took the necessary steps, this doesn’t have to be the case.”
St. Luke’s Wood River has needed to divert patients at certain times due to staffing constraints, Kern said. Wood River patients needing complex or specialized care are typically transported to regional hospitals, he noted, but St. Luke’s hospitals in Twin Falls and Boise—or even other facilities—might be full and may not be able to accept all patients needing care.
People should be cognizant that a negative test result does not automatically mean they are not infectious or can’t develop symptoms subsequent to testing negative, Kern said. In addition to quarantining and isolating when advised, people should “wear a mask, watch your distance, wash your hands and avoid gathering with people outside your household,” he said.
“Until there is a vaccine,” he said, “this is our communities’ best path to stay healthy, keep our kids in school, our businesses open and, importantly, not overwhelm our health care system.”