Frontline workers like firefighters, police officers, teachers and school staff, day care workers and prison employees are among those at the top of the list in Idaho to be vaccinated against COVID-19 starting today.

They will be followed by a group that includes people 65 years and older, and then perhaps at the same time, depending on the availability of the vaccine, employees of places like factories, public transit, grocery stores, the postal service and the agricultural sector starting in early February, according to a decision that Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced Tuesday.

“Our goal with vaccine planning and distribution is, in part, to reduce transmission and preserve a functioning health care system and to get back to normal as quickly as possible,” he said.

Little’s decision to adapt the Friday recommendation of the Idaho COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee for an estimated 500,000 front-line workers and older individuals is expected to move up a timeline for younger senior citizens to be vaccinated.

Those 75 years old and older had been tentatively grouped with teachers and first responders prior to Tuesday.

But those 65 years and older were in a group to be vaccinated perhaps in April, after all frontline workers, including grocery store and convenience store employees, were inoculated.

The priorities were questioned in some circles last week, such as during an AARP call-in program that Little attended.

Teachers and staff in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade education, day care workers, first responders and detention facility staff are being put ahead of the 65-year-old and older population for several reasons, Little said.

“The 65 and older population is enormous and there is still work actively being done to build up capacity,” he said. “... Also the health of our teachers is paramount to ensuring students can learn in the classroom where they deserve to be.”

Idaho public health officials said they expect a larger quantity of vaccine will be available in coming weeks because of changes Tuesday by the Trump administration (see story on Page 1A).

“We don’t know what that number is right now because (that news) was just released today,” said State Department of Health and Welfare Immunization Program Manager Sarah Leeds, in a news conference after Little’s announcement.

“We will be talking with our partners at (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and Operation Warp Speed to learn more and then communicate that to our providers and local public health districts.”

Prior to the changes, Idaho was getting an estimated 20,000 vaccine doses a week, she said.

Health care providers, along with residents and employees of nursing homes, were in the first group to get the vaccine in Idaho starting four weeks ago.

So far, 33,000 of Idaho’s 1.8 million residents have been vaccinated, including more than 1,000 of north central Idaho’s roughly 110,000 residents.

A total of 306 people in Nez Perce County have gotten the shots, as well as 53 in Lewis County, 152 in Clearwater County, 172 in Idaho County and 346 in Latah County, according to numbers updated Monday at coronavirus.Idaho.gov.

As the vaccine becomes more widely available, people can expect to get their vaccinations in the places they would typically receive that type of care, such as their employers, medical clinics, pharmacies and local health district offices, said Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen.

The updates about how Idaho is deploying its vaccine supply came on a day when no new coronavirus deaths were reported in the region, while the number of people who had contracted the illness climbed.

North Central Idaho reported 55 new cases. Latah County had the most, 31, followed by Nez Perce County with 19, Clearwater County with four and Idaho County with one.

In southeastern Washington, Whitman County had six new infections while Asotin and Garfield counties had one each.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.