Residents of north central Idaho as young as 55 years old are among those who now qualify to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The Public Health — Idaho North Central District decided to lower the eligibility age for the shots after seeing a “considerable slow down” in appointments among seniors 65 years old and older, front-line workers and others who had qualified previously, said District Director Carol Moehrle in a news release issued Tuesday.

As of last week, 47 percent of the 22,000 people in Nez Perce, Latah, Clearwater, Idaho and Lewis counties who are 65 and older had received a first dose, according to a news release.

That compares with about 55 percent of people 65 and older statewide who have had at least one shot as of Tuesday, said Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen in a media briefing.

The Idaho North Central District allowed factory employees and other front-line personnel, like grocery store workers, to start being immunized earlier this week, ahead of Monday, when the state had previously planned to move to that group.

That happened because the number of people seeking immunizations in north central Idaho had diminished.

As state health districts open the vaccines to more groups, the state is working on strategies to encourage a higher number of people to get shots.

A poll of Idaho residents 18 years old and older found about 60 percent were “anxiously waiting” to be vaccinated if they hadn’t already been immunized, about 20 percent were interested and another 20 percent were “never ever, ever” going to accept the vaccine or be much harder to convince, Jeppesen said.

That compares to estimates from experts that anywhere from 80 percent to 90 percent of the population would need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity.

The state is working on the group that is somewhat hesitant but not opposed to the vaccine with efforts such as making sure medical professionals have accurate information to share with patients to resolve their concerns, he said.

The vaccines are safe, have been thoroughly tested and have “side effects, but they are relatively minor,” Jeppesen said.

In other coronavirus news, the North Central District reported 20 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, 15 of which were discovered in Latah County, pushing its in-county total to 2,827.

New cases included nine men and three women between the ages of 18 and 29, a man and a woman in their 50s and a man in his 60s.

Thus far, 2,584 people in the county have recovered from the virus and eight have died because of it..

Whitman County Public Health did not release an update on COVID-19 numbers Wednesday.

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