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Federal lawsuit challenges Idaho vaccination plans

January 6, 2021 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An 87-year-old south-central Idaho man has filed a federal lawsuit against Republican Gov. Brad Little and the state’s health department seeking to force the state to put people 65 and over at the front of the line for the coronavirus vaccination.

Richard Byrd of Rogerson in the lawsuit filed Monday said it’s a life-and-death issue for older people who tend to die at much higher rates than younger people if they get COVID-19.

Byrd in the lawsuit contends denying him access to the vaccine immediately is a violation of his rights under the U.S. Constitution, “and in reality is a ‘threat’ to my life.”

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The first phase of Idaho’s plan calls for vaccinating 130,000 front-line health care workers and long-term care residents. Little, who is 66, said on Tuesday that those vaccinations should be finished by the end of January.

Little’s objective is to distribute the vaccine’s limited supply to preserve health care capacity and protect the most vulnerable. The first phase of vaccinations aims to fulfill both those goals by vaccinating health care workers who come in contact with COVID-19 patients and residents of long-term care facilities where outbreaks can be especially deadly.

Byrd takes issue with vaccinating health care workers who he said tend to be younger and healthier and more likely to survive getting COVID-19 than older adults.

Little and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare “did with reckless disregard of the rights of the high-risk groups, 65 and over, and to the very high-risk group 80 and over, like myself, allocate the bulk of available COVID-19 vaccine to that low-risk group,” the lawsuit states.

Byrd also said in the lawsuit that because he lives at home and not in a long-term care facility, he’s not in the first group of people getting vaccinated.

“While I don’t begrudge those people a vaccination, why are they more deserving than me?” the lawsuit says.

Under the state’s proposed plan, Byrd is in the second group to get vaccinated, comprised of essential workers and adults 75 and over.

The second Idaho group, which numbers about 330,000, is expected to start receiving vaccinations in February, depending on the vaccine supply.

Nearly 145,000 Idaho residents have been infected with the virus and 1,471 have died, according to state officials. Of those deaths, people 80 and over account for nearly half at 771. The number of people 70 and over who have died because of COVID-19 is 1,179, or 80% of those deaths.

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“The vaccine allocation by Governor Little is an abuse of his discretionary powers, and is obviously not based on science or statistical facts!” the lawsuit states.

State officials say that nearly 23,000 doses of the vaccine had been administered through Tuesday.

Members of the third group in line to get vaccinated, numbering about 500,000, is expected to start getting their shots in April if the timeline holds. This group is comprised of people 65 and older and people age 16 to 64 who have medical conditions that put them at increased risk if they contract the virus.

During the AARP Idaho call Little participated in on Tuesday, some callers questioned essential workers in the second group getting vaccinated ahead of people older than 65 in the third group. Health officials said that issue is being studied.

Idaho’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee, which is meeting again Friday, has been making recommendations to Little on who can get the vaccine and when. State officials have emphasized that the timeline is a work in progress depending on various factors, including how much vaccine the state receives from the federal government and how many people choose to take it.

Scott Graf, spokesman for the Idaho attorney general’s office, said the office doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Marissa Morrison, Little’s spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press.