Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct information about seniors and COVID-19. Seniors are being hospitalized with the virus at drastically lower rates.
Idaho’s few COVID-19 cases currently being reported are almost all in unvaccinated people. And in the first six months of 2021, the rate of seniors being hospitalized has drastically declined, sparing some of those most vulnerable to the coronavirus and relieving pandemic-related hospital strains.
“More than 90% of all cases have no record of being vaccinated that we know of,” one of Idaho’s top public health researchers, Dr. Kathryn Turner, told reporters during a Tuesday news conference.
Meanwhile, the number of infected people who become hospitalized has declined 83% between January and May, when coronavirus infection rates were much higher, said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Idaho’s public health administrator. The age group with the biggest dip was people age 65 and up, who were made eligible before the general population and who have the highest vaccination rate of all age groups.
Idaho has reported less than 200 cases during most days this month. On January 8, the state reported 1,085 new cases.
Real-world displays of the vaccine’s effectiveness are promising, especially for people at high risk for severe COVID-19 complications and for hospital administrators, who are seeing pandemic-related resource strains ease as they head into their usual busy trauma season. But Idaho has not crossed the finish line — with children still landing in the hospital and vaccination rates that trail the nation.
How can you get vaccinated?
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare recently published a map of mobile vaccine clinics, which you can find at bit.ly/MobileClinicMapID.
Go to a pharmacy accepting walk-in appointments near you, which you can find online at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s ”Vaccinate Idaho” webpage. Visit vaccines.gov to find more sites near you, including at doctor’s offices. Sign up for a waitlist using the state’s vaccine pre-registration tool.
How’s Idaho’s vaccine campaign going?
Idaho seniors have gotten vaccinated at the highest levels of all age groups, but stragglers are getting vaccinated at a snail’s pace even after the state missed its self-set goal and continues to lag behind national rates.
Just 75.6% of Idahoans age 65 and up have received at least one vaccine dose, which grew less than half of a percentage point since Idaho missed its goal of getting 80% of seniors vaccinated by June.
Dr. Christine Hahn, the state’s top public health researcher, said it’s worth celebrating the high vaccination rate in seniors.
“Of course we want to bring everybody along, but the seniors were always the top priority, which is why vaccination started first in that age group. And so we’re really happy,” Hahn said, adding that she believes that “we can get to 80 (percent) vaccination” among seniors.
Just 49.1% of all Idaho adults have been vaccinated, compared to 63.7% of all American adults.
Vaccinating 70% of all Idaho adults is probably the best-case scenario, state-paid pollsters recently concluded. It may take until late fall to reach that goal, Shaw-Tulloch said.
“But it just depends on people’s personal actions,” Shaw-Tulloch said.
COVID-19 hospitalization rates for teens, aged 13 to 17, have declined only 42% since January — almost half the general virus-related hospitalization decline during the same time period, Shaw-Tulloch said.
“Even though we’re seeing declines in cases, we are still seeing cases from children and children in the hospital due to COVID. The disease rates in children are reflective of what we’re seeing with community transmission,” she said.
“And we know that vaccines work. And so we want to encourage children to get the vaccine so they can make sure that they get their summer back and that they have a good outcome for the (next) school year.”
How are leaders working to boost vaccination rates?
The state is using $9 million in grant funds to support novel ways to get shots out, including through clinics that are mobile, accept walk-ins and are at workplaces. Vaccinations at job sites seem to be working particularly well, Shaw-Tulloch said, along with smaller vaccination clinics. At least some local public health districts offer to help host clinics on job sites.
Nothing is off the table when it comes to incentivizing Idahoans to get vaccinated, she said. Idaho public health officials say they are looking to see what other states are doing to motivate those who are either uneager to get vaccinated or unconvinced that they should. Several states have offered cash incentives to vaccinated people through lotteries.
State public health officials are also trying to ensure that local doctors and health care providers have the best information about vaccines to address concerns and hopefully sway those who are hesitant, said Sarah Leeds, who runs Idaho’s immunization program.