The St. Luke’s Health System and South Central Public Health District are opening COVID-19 vaccine clinics this week in the Wood River Valley to people in the state’s top-priority tier, as determined by Idaho’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee.
Soon, though, they’ll be joined to many more—about 500,000 additional Idahoans, according to the Governor’s Office.
On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Brad Little announced changes to the state’s distribution plan and the state’s intention to start moving to the next tier of recipients starting today, Jan. 13. Under the new guidelines, some essential workers—including police, firefighters, school teachers and staff—will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccination in Idaho from Jan. 13-31, while higher-priority recipients are still being inoculated. After that, adults 65 and older can get the shot starting in February. Previously, the second tier included people 75 and older, with the 65-and-older group in a later tier.
“The 65-and-older population is enormous, and there is still work actively being done to build up capacity among our providers to take on this population,” Little said in a statement. “We do not want to create a bubble or backlog. Once we get a handle on capacity, we will be able to get to the 65-and-older population.”
St. Luke’s Wood River is awaiting “the green light” from the Health District to expand its eligibility criteria and getting its software ready to accept the new group of recipients, hospital spokeswoman Joy Prudek said after Little’s announcement on Tuesday.
“We’re ready,” Prudek told the Express on Tuesday. “We’re excited to start vaccinating more people.”
The second tier will join the top-priority group comprised of frontline health-care providers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities already eligible for the vaccine. Groups who qualify in tier 1A include: public health workers who are unable to telework, clinic/outpatient staff and support staff unable to telework, emergency-management-response workers and emergency-medical-services workers, hospital inpatient staff and support staff, long-term care facility staff and residents, pharmacists and aides, professional home-care providers for high-risk people, and dentists and their aides.
Vaccinations for the general public should start by May, the Health District has estimated.
Meanwhile, St. Luke’s Wood River has started scheduling appointments for people in the state’s group 1A who qualify to receive vaccinations. The clinics at St. Luke’s Wood River will begin Thursday, Jan. 14. Clinics at Health District offices have already started, the agency stated. The Health District is contacting administration in offices and agencies that qualify to schedule appointments during clinic hours.
St. Luke’s will open the same number of appointments as it has in vaccine doses, the organization stated. When available, COVID-19 vaccine appointments at St. Luke’s Wood River will be scheduled through the St. Luke’s online myChart system. If patients do not have a myChart account, they are encouraged to establish one. People who have never used St. Luke’s services can call 208-381-9000 to set up an account. Those who cannot use myChart can call St. Luke’s Connect at 208-381-9500 to set up an appointment when their phase and group/subgroup opens up for scheduling.
People in Blaine County who qualify and have not been contacted by the South Central Public Health District can also call the district office in Bellevue at 208-788-4335 to schedule an appointment.
Brianna Bodily, public information officer for the Health District, said the vaccination campaign is an effort to vaccinate as many people as possible in the initial priority group before the state moves onto the next stage of vaccination. The district is partnering with St. Luke’s.
To verify appropriate group placement, people will be required to provide proof of employment at their appointment, the organizations stated. The COVID vaccine will not be given if the patient does not have the proper proof of their job, such as a badge, pay stub or W-2 paperwork.
Bodily said the Health District is encouraging all people who qualify to get an approved COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.
“The vaccine has been deemed safe and effective and isn’t something people should be afraid to get,” she said in an interview, noting that people who decline when eligible might lose priority status.
Bodily said that although the distribution of the approved vaccines to Idaho has “slowed to a trickle,” the pace of vaccination is expected to pick up considerably in future weeks and months.
“This is a brand-new process,” she said. “So much is being done right now. It feels slow … but in reality things are moving very quickly.”
The Health District—which is based in Twin Falls and serves eight counties, including Blaine—expected to have received by the end of this week a running total of 1,950 doses of the federally approved Pfizer vaccine and 7,200 doses of the approved Moderna vaccine, Bodily said. Some 3,700 of those doses of the two-dose vaccines will be administered to people as second inoculations, Bodily said.
The Boise-based St. Luke’s Health System has been vaccinating frontline staff for about three weeks and had administered some 8,000 vaccine doses by the end of Monday, with an estimated 73 percent of staff and providers receiving shots, St. Luke’s reported. Prior to doses being distributed to St. Luke’s in the tier 1A initiative, St. Luke’s has received shipments separately from those to Idaho’s health districts.
Statewide, 33,168 people had received inoculations by Tuesday morning, with 5,692 people receiving the recommended two doses, the Department of Health and Welfare reported.