Bonneville County Jail - COVID 19

The Bonneville County Jail is seen on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020.

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People being held in Idaho jails and prisons — hit hard by COVID-19 outbreaks — should be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines separately from the general population.

That’s what Idaho’s top vaccine planning panel voted narrowly in favor of during its last scheduled meeting Friday afternoon.

The vote, which was to prioritize correctional facilities and other congregate living facilities, appears to clarify one of the final parts of Idaho’s vaccine timeline. There’s a little more than a month left before all adults become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

If Gov. Brad Little approves the plan, people in congregate living facilities, which includes abuse shelters, inpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities, or group homes and work and student dormitories, would receive special priority in group 3, which includes everyone under age 64.

“We’re going to go from a time of scarcity in vaccine to a time of plenty,” said Little, who did not clarify when that might happen. “... We’re going to report out some ads to try to increase the uptake in the state of Idaho. And that’s going to be a critical next step.”

Earlier this week, everyone age 16 and up who works and lives in Idaho were made eligible to receive virus shots by April 26. Before then, the state is taking a week-by-week approach of vaccinating people who are younger than 65 but at least 45 years old. People with disabilities and high-risk medical conditions are up first in every age group.

The panel’s vote Friday said people in congregate living facilities should not get vaccines according to their age or health, meaning all who live in a facility could get shots all at once.

Jail and prison staff and health care workers have been eligible for months now. Staff and residents of long-term care facilities, which are linked with four in ten of Idaho’s COVID-19 deaths, have been eligible for shots since late 2020.

The panel rejected votes to suggest special priority to workers in bars, restaurants, airports, banks and financial services. A subset of state tax workers and Idaho Power workers were similarly rejected for special priority recommendation.

The panel may be called back in the future.

No COVID-19 vaccines have been approved yet for children younger than 16 years old. Only one, produced by Pfizer, is approved for use in 16- and 17-year-olds. About a quarter of Idaho’s 1.8 million population are minors, according to Census estimates.

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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