Idaho sets a lofty goal: 80% of people vaccinated for COVID-19 — this year

Idaho public health officials plan to ask CDC for grant to help with outreach, education

By: - April 14, 2021 4:00 am
Dave Lacknauth, director of Pharmacy Services at Broward Health Medical Center shows off a bottle of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a press conference on Dec. 23, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

In this file photo, Dave Lacknauth, director of Pharmacy Services at Broward Health Medical Center shows off a bottle of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a press conference on Dec. 23, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

State officials hope to persuade more Idahoans to get the COVID-19 vaccine — and they’ve set the goal at a statewide vaccination rate of 80%.

That’s a high bar for a state whose flu vaccination rate is below 50%.

Idaho public health officials said Tuesday they’re planning to ask the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a grant to help with outreach, education, vaccine clinics and even incentives to get Idahoans to roll up their sleeves.

“We want to push ourselves, we want to push Idahoans, to get that vaccine,” said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator of the Idaho Division of Public Health.

Officials hope to achieve the 80% goal by September, she said.

Demand for the vaccine has begun to shift, so “our approach will of course need to change” and require public health officials to “develop and implement a variety of strategies to help us reach our goal,” she said.

Those strategies could include:

  • More funding for health care providers to hold vaccine clinics.
  • Helping local organizations bring vaccines to people through community events
  • Working with business leaders to offer their employees incentives for getting vaccinated. Those incentives are “likely such things as paid time off, on-site clinics, financial motivators. We’re working with the private sector to start to discern what might be the appropriate thing to do,” Shaw-Tulloch said.

About 74% of Idahoans age 65 and older have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of this week, according to data from the CDC, which tracks state and federal vaccine rollout efforts.

The state only recently opened up the vaccine to anyone who wants it, ages 16 and older. Thousands of Idahoans per day are receiving their COVID-19 shots, according to state records.

But to achieve herd immunity, as more contagious variants spread in the state, about 80% of people must be protected, according to Idaho State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn.

At this point, only about 31% of the state’s population has been vaccinated.

Some Idahoans have said they’re reluctant to get the vaccine, with doubts about safety or effectiveness.

In addition, one large chunk of the population has no choice but to go unvaccinated for now; children make up 25% of Idaho’s population. No vaccine is yet authorized for use in children under 16.

Until that changes, reaching an 80% vaccination rate would require virtually every Idaho adult to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

Hahn said she’s optimistic that a vaccine will be authorized for adolescents before the next school year starts.

Still, vaccine uptake among Idahoans aged 12 to 15 may be slow. Those who already can get the Pfizer vaccine — age 16 or 17 — haven’t been getting vaccinated in large numbers. Only about 65 teens in Idaho have received the COVID-19 vaccine so far, according to CDC data.

Minors must have permission from a parent or guardian to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, unless the child “meets a statutory exemption” or receives a court order to make their own health care decisions, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Among younger children, vaccine rates in Idaho tend to be higher than, for example, the rate of flu shots. But they’re still relatively low compared with other states. CDC data show that only 75% or less of Idaho children receive all the vaccines recommended by age 3.

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Audrey Dutton
Audrey Dutton

Audrey Dutton was a senior investigative reporter with the Idaho Capital Sun after 10 years at the Idaho Statesman. Her favorite topics to cover included health care, business, consumer protection issues and white collar crime. Before coming home to Idaho, Dutton worked as a journalist in Minnesota, New York, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Dutton's work has earned dozens of state, regional and national awards for investigative reporting, health care and business reporting, data visualization and more.