COVID Vaccine clinic

Don Morrison, director of nursing with Terry Reilly Health Services, delivers a COVID-19 vaccine during a clinic at Homedale Middle School, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021.

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Idaho’s vaccine planners are answering a tough question: What groups should be next in line for COVID-19 vaccination?

Based on a handful of initial votes by a state vaccine panel Friday, the next step could be a mix of older, non-seniors and people with high-risk medical conditions.

That aims to balance two large risk factors for severe COVID-19 complications: Age and medical conditions.

The panel said Idaho’s list of medical conditions should align with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of conditions that “might be at an increased risk,” which includes a wide range of diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, asthma, kidney disease, obesity, pregnancy and smoking.

Votes by the 32-member Coronavirus Vaccine Advisory Committee that advises Gov. Brad Little offer a framework for priority group 3, the next fold of Idaho’s four-step vaccine plan.

It’s undecided how patients would be staggered by age and medical condition. Several panel members suggested first starting with older non-seniors, such as those in their early 60s or late 50s.

Essential workers not included in earlier priority groups should be eligible when their age or medical-condition group is eligible, the panel recommended. Disabled Idahoans are in these recommended priority groups.

The panel plans to meet March 19. Little has the final say on vaccine priority groups.

Currently, around 400,000 Idahoans are eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, including health care workers, frontline workers in pre-K-12 schools, law enforcement, and seniors age 65 and up. Seniors make up around three-quarters of all Idahoans eligible for shots. As of last week, half of 291,000 seniors in Idaho have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

By March 15, eligibility will expand to an estimated 134,000 essential workers in industries such as food, agriculture, manufacturing, grocery and convenience stores, and public transit. People who live in homeless shelters will also be eligible. Health districts may begin vaccinations for this group, dubbed priority group 2.3, before Monday.

The Idaho panel declined to immediately make eligible about 50 federal aviation workers. They’ll be considered in priority group 3.

Idaho is receiving 40,000 first doses of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine each week; booster shots arrive three to four weeks after first doses are administered. The state received about 13,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved one-shot COVID-19 vaccine last week. No doses are expected this week. Between 10,000 and 15,000 more doses are expected each week afterward during March.

Idaho immunization head Sarah Leeds said Friday that the state is expecting “in the coming months to see significant increases” in weekly virus shot allotments. President Joe Biden said last week that he expects the U.S. to have enough shots by the end of May to administer COVID-19 vaccines to every American adult who wants them.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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