Gov. LIttle Stage 4 presser (copy)

Dave Jeppesen, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, speaks with members of the media during a press conference at the Idaho Capitol on June 11, 2020.

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Idaho’s top health leader said if the COVID-19 vaccine supply continues to rise, the state’s weekly inventory could more than double within a month and secure a path to reach “some sense of normalcy” by summer’s end.

‘With the new contracts that have been put in place at the federal level, it’s possible by the end of March or April, we could be getting about 100,000 first doses into the state each week,” state health Director Dave Jeppesen said during a virtual talk Friday to Idaho Falls City Club.

That would more than double the state’s steadily rising weekly allocation of first doses, which this week rose to around 40,000. And, Jeppesen said, the doubling of doses would “alleviate the supply issue we have faced.”

The rosy picture Jeppesen relayed hinges on rapidly growing vaccine availability.

If a new one-shot COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson & Johnson, under review by federal regulators, is approved, Jeppesen estimated it would bring in 10,000 to 15,000 more doses to Idaho each week. Meanwhile, federal officials hope new contracts the Biden administration secured with vaccine developers could boost supply of existing vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna. Both currently approved COVID-19 vaccines require two doses to reach maximum protection.

“Ideally, and this will all depend on supply, we would love to be at a place where we have enough Idahoans who have had access to vaccines and chose to be vaccinated … that we could be at a really good spot before kids go back to school in the fall,” Jeppesen said, later adding “by the end of summer, we could be in a position where we are getting back to some sense of normalcy.”

It took two months for Idaho’s supply to rise from 15,000 first COVID-19 vaccine doses each week, in mid-December, to 30,000 in mid-February. President Joe Biden predicts that by late spring there will be enough vaccine to administer to anyone who wants it, but that some people’s hesitance about receiving the vaccine will limit the number of people who want it, according to the Associated Press.

Jeppesen didn’t say what that normalcy could look like. Health experts say even as vaccines become more widely available, masks will still be needed to slow and contain the virus’s spread.

A real-world test of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in more than half a million people confirms that it’s very effective at preventing serious illness or death, even after one dose, the Associated Press reported earlier this week. But evidence doesn’t suggest the shot can entirely prevent someone from contracting COVID-19. The vaccine was 92% effective at preventing severe disease after two shots and 62% after one. Its estimated effectiveness for preventing death was 72% two to three weeks after the first shot, a rate that may improve as immunity builds over time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says flu shots are between 40 to 60% effective, by comparison.

The discovery of at least two more infectious coronavirus variants within Idaho renewed concern about virus control even as cases and hospitalizations declined. Although virus variants first identified in South Africa and U.K. were only spotted in the Treasure Valley, Jeppesen said variants are “probably in most parts of the state.”

“We’re in a race to get as many people vaccinated as we can before these new variants cause another spike in cases and hospitalizations to occur, “Jeppesen said.

Last fall, a spike in coronavirus cases in Idaho was so severe that “we actually came dangerously close in December to running out of health care capacity in the state,” said Jeppesen, who was authorized in mid-December to unilaterally activate a hospital resource crisis plan if he deemed it necessary.

The situation is much better now, with hospitalizations and cases down. In eastern Idaho, capacity is “almost back to normal,” he said. “... We hope to keep it that way.”

The Associated Press contributed.

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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