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Gov. Little and healthcare experts discuss COVID-19 vaccine rollout, when herd immunity will be reached

"It's actually a modern science miracle, frankly, is how quickly and effectively and safe this vaccine has come together and we're very thankful for that."

Idaho Governor Brad Little briefly spoke during a Tuesday afternoon press conference about the current status of the COVID-19 vaccines in the state.

"This is a very dynamic process," Gov. Little said during the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare press conference. "How much vaccine we have, what do we do for storage. You know, what we don't know [is] how many people are going to sign up so. But we are looking at every single option out there. And our goal is to safely, quickly and fairly distribute the vaccine out into the arms of people, predicated on the priorities that the vaccine advisory committee have established."

Gov. Little was joined by DHW Director Dave Jeppesen and Public Health Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch, who both also gave an update on the current situation with the state's coronavirus vaccines.

"It's actually a modern science miracle, frankly, is how quickly and effectively and safe this vaccine has come together and we're very thankful for that," Jeppesen said. "And we are committed to roll the vaccine out as safe, and as quick away as possible and I just want to reiterate that we want to make sure we get the vaccine out in a safe and as quick of a way as possible."

Shaw-Tulloch outlined the state's responsibility in the nationwide vaccination effort against COVID-19 and said she feels pleased that so many healthcare providers are administering vaccine doses as fast as possible while the state works out the details of the rollout plan.

"They're going to be bumps in the road absolutely as this is rolled out because no one has done this before," she said. "These are different vaccines there's a lot to learn. And of course, you know we appreciate the public's patience and cooperation as we go through this process. But most of all I want to express my sincere excitement that we finally have this vaccine here in appreciation, and that this is a great beacon of hope for the state."

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare released a timeline that is an estimate of when people could get vaccinated. Shaw-Tulloch said the state is currently in phase one of its vaccination plan, which focuses on frontline healthcare workers and those in long-term care facilities, but the next phase could be adjusted to include those age 65 and older instead of those age 75 and older.

The committee is scheduled to meet Friday at noon to review recommendations on the next phases of the rollout made by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention and Gov. Little.

"We will be continuing to work with our advisory committee to help make recommendations to the governor on the phases and priority groups, which are going to determine the decision points that will help us guide, that will guide us in moving from one phase to the next," Shaw-Tullock said.

State epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn also explained that Idaho may need a lot more people to get vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity than previously anticipated.

"What is herd immunity has not been firmly established with this virus, particularly now with this more potentially more contagious strain now being more widely spread out in the United States, that could potentially push that number up," she said. "I think a month ago we were thinking okay maybe 60 or 70% and now what we are hearing is, depending on how truly more infectious this new strain might be, we might be needing to get more towards 80 or 85% to achieve a herd immunity across a population."

The goal for having a meaningful percentage of Idahoans is August, but that is subject to change as vaccine supply fluctuates.

Since Idaho began administering the COVID-19 vaccines about three weeks ago, over 19,000 Idahoans have been vaccinated and that number is expected to drastically grow in the coming weeks.

While the process of distributing and maintaining one of the vaccines under extremely cold temperatures is complex, the state has reported few wasted doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, immunization program manager Sarah Leeds explained.

"We have had very few reports of any wastage and I don't have a number but it has been very minimal and we consider this a huge success. This vaccine has so many complexities with storage and handling and our providers have done a fantastic job of no wasting it," she said.

On Dec. 30, Gov. Little announced that Tuesday's meeting would be the first weekly virtual press conference on the COVID-19 vaccines.

The timeline places Idahoans into four different groups, with vaccine availability ranging from now until May 2021, when public health officials hope enough vaccine will be available for the general public.

While the first group is still being given shots of the vaccine, specific details regarding when and where individuals in the last three groups can receive the vaccine are still being determined.

Looking ahead to when the vaccine is available to more Idahoans, Idaho has invested in a new tool called PrepMod. The software will facilitate vaccine distribution and clinics for healthcare providers. The idea is to create vaccine distribution appointments and schedules without having large crowds congregate. On the consumer end of the software, people will be given tools to help them find the nearest place to vaccinated when their wave arrives. More details about PrepMod is expected in the near future.