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Vaccine rollout continues, but not always with definitive answers

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | December 30, 2020 1:08 AM

A pair of local mayors have reached out to state officials for clarification on the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, to varying degrees of dissatisfaction.

In an email dated Monday afternoon to Bobbi-Jo Meuleman, Gov. Brad Little’s deputy chief of staff and director of intergovernmental affairs, Post Falls Mayor Ron Jacobson asked for specifics about the rollout of the vaccine to residents and staffs of long-term care facilities, one of the two groups in Idaho’s highest priority to be vaccinated.

“I reached out because we have a lot of questions," Jacobson told The Coeur d’Alene Press “I’ve not heard who will be responsible for distribution to long-term care [facilities]. I don’t know who’s responsible for giving vaccines that are received but not administered. So I reached out to Bobby-Jo. She’s been very wonderful to work with, though I didn’t get some of those questions answered.”

In the email, Jacobson asked for specifics on distribution and how the state will accelerate the process to vaccinate the population against a disease the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reports has killed 1,393 Idahoans.

“Will the governor utilize the National Guard to assist with the distribution?” Jacobson wrote. “Also, are we, as a state, receiving as many doses as the governor projected? I have people asking me these questions, and I don’t have answers for them.”

Other North Idaho mayors were cc’ed in the email, including Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmyer.

“When it comes to rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine we need to demand a better job from the governor’s office and the state of Idaho," Widmyer said.

In the email thread, Widmyer expressed his concern that, by and large, residents and staff in Kootenai County’s long-term care facilities have not yet been vaccinated in accordance with state guidelines. In particular, Widmyer noted that states with less than half the allocated vaccines have already administered more doses than Idaho.

South Dakota has received 40,175 vaccines and administered 14,799, he wrote Meuleman. North Dakota has received 35,350, and they have administered 13,048. Idaho has received 73,775 and has administered 10,459.

"That’s disappointing," Widmyer wrote. "We should have the best program and not be lagging behind.”

Jacobson said his concern stems from residents like himself with loved ones in long-term care facilities, locals struggling with where to direct their questions for specific timelines.

“Let’s say you’ve got someone who’s in a long-term care facility,” Jacobson said. “My mother just turned 95, and I have not heard any plan for assisted living. When are we going to know where to go? When are we going to have access to that information?"

Long-term care facility residents and staff were included in what’s known as Phase 1a, the Idaho Vaccine Advisory Committee’s initial priority for rolling out vaccines. Long-term care became an initial priority in the committee’s deliberations in early December, less than a week before Pfizer’s vaccine received emergency authorization use from the Food and Drug Administration.

As part of a federal partnership in the nationwide rollout, drug store chains Walgreens and CVS were tasked with overseeing administration of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to long-term care facilities.

Requests for comment to Walgreens’ media representatives were not returned.

States were delegated authority by the federal government to distribute vaccine doses throughout each state. Marissa Morrison, spokesperson for Little’s office, said that, while Panhandle Health was among the health districts to receive doses, at no time has anyone promised the rollout would be perfect.

“The Governor has said the arrival of vaccine is a turning point in our pandemic fight, but we all need to be patient as the situation evolves," she wrote.

PHD spokeswoman Katherine Hoyer said the federal partnership with pharmacy chains set up through the Centers for Disease Control has already launched statewide, though no data was given about local long-term care facilities.

“According to CDC guidelines, 7,800 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were set aside for the program last week in Idaho," she said. "That many first doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be set aside for the next three weeks, and we anticipate having this group vaccinated by mid-February."

Hoyer said there are variables that might change that timeline.

Aside from the initial 1,950 Pfizer doses Panhandle Health received in mid-December — 1,370 of which went to Kootenai Health for front line workers — and the 4,200 Moderna doses Panhandle Health received just before Christmas, the public health district expects to receive 975 additional Pfizer doses and 1,200 additional Moderna doses by New Year’s Day.

The mayors’ concerns over a perceived lack of communication does not mean long-term health care facilities won’t be administering vaccines. A few facilities are reporting their staffs and residents will receive vaccines in the next few weeks, and at least one facility will begin administering vaccines today.

“We are thankful to be prioritized for Phase 1a of COVID-19 vaccinations,” said Christie Robinson, executive director of The Renaissance at Coeur d’Alene. “We are looking forward to being able to have an extra defense so that we may continue being a safe, healthy community for our residents and our team members.”

“For me, it’s more about communication,” Jacobson said. “I’m not outraged. I’m concerned, because not all the information is out there. We’ve got to get as many vaccinations [administered] as possible. If we’re not getting that done, that begs the question: What’s being done about it? Obviously, this is new territory for all of us.”