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Idaho govenor, top health official again urge COVID vaccine

| November 26, 2021 7:00 AM

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little and the state's top health official in what is likely their last coronavirus town hall of the year urged residents to get vaccinated or get the booster shot if they're eligible.

Little and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen on Tuesday gave what was part pep talk and part opportunity to express thanks that there are effective vaccines available and for the efforts of health care workers nearly two years into the coronavirus pandemic.

The two took questions during the hour-long town hall put on by AARP Idaho heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, a program the two have been doing often weekly most of the year. Some callers had concerns about their safely gathering with unvaccinated family members during the holidays, including children.

"I just hate to see people not enjoying Thanksgiving," Little said, noting those fully vaccinated had less to be concerned about.

"Particularly if you're vaccinated and particularly if you've had a booster shot," said Jeppesen. "That should put you in a very good position to enjoy the holidays."

He noted that all vaccinated adults are now eligible for the booster shot, though the timeline on when to get the booster varies with the type of vaccine. He noted the full impact of the booster shots is about two weeks after the shot, but some immunity starts right away.

Jeppesen on Monday announced that he had deactivated crisis guidelines for rationing care at most of the state's hospitals. They remain in place in northern Idaho where vaccination rates remain low and hospitalizations high, though trending downward.

Crisis standards of care give legal and ethical guidelines to health care providers when they have too many patients and not enough resources to care for them all. They spell out exactly how health care should be rationed to save the most lives possible during a disaster.

Idaho activated the crisis standards for northern Idaho on Sept. 7, and statewide on Sept. 16. Jeppesen said Tuesday numbers were improving in northern Idaho, and that area could also be taken out of crisis standards if the improvement continues.

"It's one of the lowest vaccinated areas of the state," Jeppesen said, noting more people getting vaccinated would help. "Particularly as we go into this holiday season, that's the number one thing people can do to help us get out of crisis standards of care up there."

One caller noted the high number of deaths despite the vaccine.

Both Little and Jeppesen cited the potent delta variant as being hard on Idaho.

"In addition to the delta variant being the main driver of that, what we see is that the vast, vast majority of deaths come from those that are unvaccinated," Jeppesen said. "If somebody gets vaccinated, the likelihood of catching COVID goes dramatically down. And then even if that person still catches COVID after being vaccinated, which is called a breakthrough case, the likelihood that they ... die is four times or five times less."

Little and Jeppesen also fielded some false information, in particular about the safety of vaccines.

"I can confirm that we have had zero deaths in Idaho due to vaccination," Jeppesen said.

Nearly 4,000 Idaho residents have died due to COVID-19 since the pandemic entered the state in spring 2020, state officials report.