Idaho's top health leaders said Tuesday that the state knows the status of 101,000 unused COVID-19 vaccine doses, and that vaccine planners are arranging plans to shuffle vials around when providers don't use them.
The state is pulling a total of 12,600 doses from CVS to redistribute to other vaccine providers Wednesday, state health Director Dave Jeppesen said. He said the state is also working with Walgreens to reallocate more unused doses.
Both pharmacies are members of a federal vaccine partnership that many Idaho long-term care facilities opted into. That program hasn't given out virus shots as speedy as state officials had hoped for, the Post Register reported last week.
"It's my understanding that CVS is finished up or will finish up in the next day or two all the facilities they had," Jeppesen said. "Walgreens is still working through theirs. And I would guess that they've either had a lower uptake than they've expected or there was an overestimation of the actual number of residents and staff of those long-term care facilities."
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released Monday found that staff in nursing homes were denying the vaccine at high rates; no Idaho data was included in the study.
The Idaho Statesman first reported that Idaho was pulling unused shots from the federal pharmacy partnership.
The assurances that all doses are accounted for come as Idaho leaders seek to boost confidence and transparency in the state's vaccine rollout.
Idaho receives about 25,000 virus shots each week. More than 103,000 Idahoans have received at least their first dose. More than 126,000 shots have been used in the state.
Breaking down what the pool of 101,000 unused doses are earmarked for, Jeppesen said, "we realized we had 22,000 in (first doses)" on Sunday. "That's actually less than we administer as a state each week. At this point, we're feeling much better that doses are getting into people's arms."
The state also has about 47,500 second vaccine doses unused, he said. Those doses come one week early, Jeppesen said, but state officials still "have more work to do to understand why the number of second doses not being administered is higher than we expected." The other 32,000 unused doses are with the federal pharmacy program.
Monday was a hectic day across the state. About 265,000 seniors became eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, and demand was incredibly high for public health districts and hospitals across the state. Eastern and Southeastern Idaho Public Health districts said they are looking for ways to improve their systems, which allowed seniors to schedule appointments through phone hotlines and online forms that quickly filled up.
Idaho's immunization head, Sarah Leeds, said efforts by state and local officials to provide more equitable vaccine access will be aided by new federal funding. "We are developing those strategies right now," she said.
State Public Health Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch said vaccine rollout to seniors was done through a "challenging" and "imperfect system."
"It's not just Idaho. It's every single state," she said, citing calls she has regularly with vaccine planners in other states.
She said state and local health officials in Idaho are trying to find ways to ease that process "by reaching the population where they are," such as by holding events locally.
"I think as we get more vaccine in the state, that's definitely going to help," Shaw-Tulloch said.
Jeppesen also walked back a claim state officials made last week that state law prevented public health agencies from collecting data on ethnicity and race for each person who receives a vaccine. Such data helps planners spot access disparities. Idaho Reports and the Idaho Statesman reported last week that they could not identify state law or agency rules barring collection of that data. Jeppesen acknowledged that Tuesday, adding that "there is also no statutory authority for the department or health care provider to mandate that patients provide" that data.