BOISE, Idaho — Almost a week after blasting the state legislature during an emergency address, Idaho Gov. Brad Little held a news conference Thursday to announce a new executive order aimed to make the vaccine rollout more transparent and hopefully quicker without wasting doses.
The governor announced that he will sign a 'Transparency in the Administration of COVID-19 Vaccine' executive order, which would require healthcare providers and public health districts to report how many doses of the vaccine they have been allotted, how many shots have been given, ensuring that vaccine doses aren't being wasted or sitting on the shelf for too long.
'We need a clearer picture'
Gov. Little began his press conference explaining that the state has been directing shipments of coronavirus vaccines to healthcare providers and public health districts.
"And quite frankly, we need a clearer picture to shine more light on vaccine administration and improve transparency about where the vaccine is available across Idaho," he said.
He also pleaded for patience for the rollout for the next priority group, Idahoans 65 and older.
"But I want to be clear, there's still a big gap between supply and demand at this point," Gov. Little stated.
As the state gets ready to start vaccinating the next priority group, he estimated it could take up to ten weeks for the state to administer them all at this rate. The next stage includes Idahoans 65 and older and there about 265,000 eligible residents in total. The state only receives about 24,000 first doses of the vaccine each week.
Gov. Little added that he is pushing the new Biden Administration for sending more vaccine doses to Idaho. He said he has gone back and forth with the administration to increase the state's weekly allotment.
Gov. Little outlined three key points that he is focused on with the Biden Administration. First is ensuring the consistency of the state's allotment of vaccines, which he said, unfortunately, won't change in the next couple of weeks. Next is ramping up the distribution and scale of the state's allotment. Lastly is the state's share of the total number of vaccines available.
He went onto explain that the federal government is distributing vaccines to states based on per capita of adults, not by the total population. Little said the state has the second-highest percentage of children in the country, so that would skew the state's allotment.
'We think transparency is just a good thing for everybody'
Another part of Gov. Little's executive order would encourage healthcare providers to use their vaccine inventory within seven days of receiving it. If vaccines sit around any longer, Little said the state would work with the provider to speed up the process.
"We think transparency is just a good thing for everybody and it has confidence in how the systems work and so the new executive orders just to give people comfort that there's not vaccines sitting around," he said.
He added that he is working with the state's public health department to make sure all of the state's data on the vaccine rollout is accessible to all Idahoans online.
"We will be able to see in practically real-time, the number of doses each provider has received, administered and has an inventory to demonstrate our commitment," he said.
Gov. Little said he has done the math and estimates the state needs about 70-80% of Idahoans to be vaccinated for life to go back to normal. He added that vaccinating a quarter-million people in the next stage will go a long way towards that goal, but there may be challenges in the following stages.
"There's a lot of interest in that group, we get down the age demographics, then the uptake rate is going to be lower," he said, "and it's going to take us a little more work to get out, but we will also have really perfected our distribution network."
'If there's barriers there, I'm more than happy to look at it'
Gov. Little also clarified the availability and access to the COVID-19 vaccine based on ethnicity or residency.
The governor said that when he received the vaccine, he just needed to provide basic details to his healthcare provider to receive it, like his address and health insurance information, but not his Social Security number.
While the state cannot statutorily track vaccine recipients' ethnicity, he said the state will be able to get more data on how the vaccine is distributed down the road. For now, however, Gov. Little said the state is focused on vaccinating everyone in each stage as they go, and making sure it is fair and equitable.
"Right now, all the people that are in A.1 (Stage) wanted to get a shot. Starting Monday everybody 65 and older can get a shot. And then we'll go through those other priorities when we get down the line. But I know of no barriers, other than the fact it is probably going to be less ethnic at the end and going to be more location. It's going to be their distance from a big provider or distance from a pharmacy, that has a lot of capabilities. And you know fair includes everything. And that's why I'm dedicated to fairness. If there's barriers there, I'm more than happy to look at it."
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen added that those who live in communities along the state border won't be denied a vaccine by Idaho healthcare providers if they happen to live just outside of the state.
"Obviously, part of the process of somebody signing up and getting an appointment is an address," Jeppesen said. "However, we're not instructing people in providers to turn people away if somebody who's got an appointment and signed up and happens to live in Washington and work in Idaho, we don't want to get in the middle of that. So, we're saying, if there's no, you know, we're not opening up for anybody from any state to come but we're also not putting a prohibition in place that would prevent a barrier for those that live in those cross border communities."
'The seriousness of this situation demands that I speak up'
Gov. Little's last press conference was on Jan. 22 during a statewide emergency address when he lashed out at his own party in the state legislature for their efforts to limit his ability to make emergency declarations during the COVID-19 pandemic, which he said would put the lives of Idahoans at risk.
"The seriousness of this situation demands that I speak up. I believe in my heart that what the Idaho Legislature is doing is harmful to our people and wrong for Idaho," Little said. "I urge my partners in the Legislature to stop the political games and do what is right for the people of Idaho. Abandon the myth that emergency declaration somehow shuts down Idaho."
The Idaho Legislature currently has multiple bills in the works that would curb the governor's power during a state of emergency. One such bill would actually call to an end of the state's state of emergency, which would cut the state off from millions of dollars in emergency aid for states.
"I am asking for your help. Please join me, contact your state legislators and tell them not to take away one of our strongest tools to end this pandemic and get back to normal. Tell them Idahoans lives and livelihoods depend on it," Little said.