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Little defends rollout

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | January 6, 2021 1:07 AM

Gov. Brad Little defended the early weeks of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout to his constituents during a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday.

Little, along with Idaho Department of Health and Welfare director Dave Jeppesen, went over the estimated timelines of statewide vaccinations, which began in December, and to champion Idaho’s relative success keeping open.

“Generally, relative to everywhere else, we’re doing pretty good,” Little said.

He said Idaho's numbers — both incident rates and hospitalizations — are getting better.

Callers, however, weren’t as optimistic. The lead caller — labeled as “John from Coeur d’Alene” — criticized Little’s characterization while pushing his team to close the gap from when health districts receive the vaccine doses and when they administer the doses.

“Kicking this off and saying Idaho is doing good is just a little offensive,” John said. “Idahoans are dying in record numbers.”

Some callers questioned how convenience store and construction workers — both considered essential under the Little administration’s shutdown and Idaho Rebounds orders — were prioritized over elderly Idahoans, a decision made by the state’s vaccine advisory committee.

“Older Idahoans are dying, not convenience store and construction workers," a caller said.

Little said the priority all along was to slow the spread of the virus to protect health care capacity, which elevated certain workers above others.

“We’re trying to save lives and save health care capacity," he said. "Sometimes it’s not a direct relationship but an indirect relationship … Some of those essential workers are vectors for spread that have been exposed all along in this. That’s why some of those essential workers are in that group.”

Several callers asked with varying degrees of concern and defiance, when they, their co-workers or their loved ones would get vaccinated against the virus, which has claimed the lives of 1,459 Idahoans, according to the state coronavirus website.

“Shouldn’t we vaccinate those most likely to get the virus and die from it?” Frank in Eagle asked. “Apparently Texas and Florida have realized this. My question is, ‘Why not Idaho?’”

“Governor, I was wondering if you are aware students in their fourth year of their graduate program — the doctorate program — working in hospitals are looked at as non-essential workers … are not being vaccinated?” Linda in Twin Falls asked.

“How can we be assured the vaccine has not been tampered with, like you see on TV?” Joan in Hayden asked, referencing a pair of Wisconsin incidents in which a health care worker allegedly opened and spoiled doses.

Jeppesen reassured the Hayden caller by discussing the doses’ chain of management, adding that certain protocols are in place in part because of the nature of dose storage, which requires ultra-cold temperatures.

Little also answered a question that Coeur d’Alene Press readers have often asked: How much will the vaccine cost individuals?

“Zero,” he said.

Little said it should be covered by insurance, Medicaid, Medicare or the federal government.

"We don’t want any financial constraints keeping people from getting vaccinated," he said.

“On the other hand,” Little added with a chuckle, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. The taxpayers are going to be paying for it.”