A little over one-third of all Idahoans are vaccinated, on par with neighboring states such as Utah and Wyoming, but below the national average of 44%, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Tuesday.
With less than half the state fully vaccinated, vaccination uptake rates throughout Idaho are now on the decline. According to data from the state’s coronavirus tracking website, on a week-to-week basis administration of a COVID-19 vaccine was at 38,000 in the beginning of May and dropped to 23,000 in the week of May 30, the most recent data shows.
As of Wednesday evening, 40% of eligible residents in the South Central Public Health District had been fully vaccinated. Another 4% had received a first dose. In addition to Blaine County, South Central monitors Lincoln, Twin Falls, Camas, Gooding, Jerome, Minidoka and Cassia counties.
While access and resources may have been a hurdle at the beginning of the vaccination rollout, there are now sufficient doses for anyone who wants one.
“We understand that we may have, in our district, vaccinated everyone who is interested in getting it,” South Central Public Health District spokesperson Brianna Bodily said Monday.
Of South Central’s counties, Blaine topped the district—and Idaho writ large—with nearly 75% of its eligible population fully vaccinated, and another 7% awaiting a second dose.
Bodily said that can potentially be contributed to several things.
First, Blaine County has a large older population more at risk of contracting COVID-19 and experiencing severe symptoms, making it a “huge motivating factor to get vaccinated.” Second, its economy is primarily tourist-driven, making vaccination a key tool in restoring a pre-pandemic stream of income.
In addition, prior to the pandemic, Blaine County was more apt than other counties in the health district to follow public health recommendations, such as getting annual flu vaccinations.
Lastly, Blaine County has more resources than rural counties in the district, making access to education and vaccinations more readily available. Rural communities may also view their risk as lower, since residents don’t interact with as many people on a daily basis.
In April, a survey of 500 Idahoans by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare found that 30% of respondent “definitely will not be vaccinated.” Data from the state’s vaccination dashboard indicates that vaccination rates are lowest among residents under age 65.
According to data on the state’s website Wednesday, 72% of Idaho residents over 65 and 52% of those between 55 and 64 are fully vaccinated, with that percentage declining in lower age brackets. Aside from minors ages 12 to 17, for whom vaccines were just recently approved, the lowest rates of vaccination are among adults 18-24 at around 30%.
For agriculturally based communities, incentive for vaccination may also be low because people don’t want to take time off work, or risk having to lose a day of work due to a potential reaction to the vaccine.
“They don’t necessarily make time for it,” Bodily said. “It’s not necessarily anti-vaxxers, but more people still on the fence. [They] may be interested in receiving the vaccine, but not interested enough to make time for it.”
That said, walk-in clinics are plentiful, and within 20 minutes, someone without an appointment can receive a vaccine and return to their day. The district has also experimented with “motivators,” such as grocery store gift cards, but those incentives “have not been helpful whatsoever,” Bodily said. Since this is the first time the Health District has used motivators to encourage vaccination of any kind, it’s difficult to determine if the motivators would be useless regardless of the vaccine being offered, such as a flu vaccine, or if residents are simply not buying into the fringe benefits of getting vaccinated now.
So, what’s next?
“Residents just need to get comfortable with it,” Bodily said, noting that some residents may just need more time to educate themselves and make the time to get the shot, while others are simply choosing not to get vaccinated because they are not a part of a vulnerable population.
“What they don’t understand is there are vulnerable populations who are still at a high risk,” Bodily said.
She also noted that some people may be at greater risk getting the vaccine due to a danger of severe allergic reaction or other immune system risk, making this population too fragile to vaccinate at this time, though they may also be more vulnerable to contracting the virus due to old age or an underlying condition.