Lawsuit: State Vaccination Program Should Prioritize Seniors

Syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif.

Syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif. Associated Press


Connecting state and local government leaders

An 87-year-old Idaho man filed the suit, seeking to force the state to alter its Covid-19 vaccination program.

An 87-year-old Idaho man on Monday filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Brad Little and the state health department, seeking to alter the state’s Covid-19 vaccine distribution plan by moving senior citizens to the front of the line.

“This is a life and death issue for people like myself, age 87,” wrote Richard Byrd, a resident of Rogerson, an unincorporated community near the state’s southern border. “I urge the Court to consider this an urgent matter.”

Idaho is currently in the first phase of its vaccine distribution plan, which prioritizes doses for front-line health-care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Adults over the age of 75 are included in the second phase, which is projected to begin in February. 

In the lawsuit, filed in district court, Byrd contends that health-care workers tend to be younger and are thus less at risk of serious complications from Covid-19, while older adults are inherently more likely to die from the virus. The inclusion of nursing home residents in the first phase, he argued, is proof of that vulnerability.

“Residents in...nursing homes, the majority, like myself, are over 65,” he wrote. “While I don’t begrudge those people a vaccination, why are they more deserving than me? I am 87 years old, struggling along at home, other than the living accommodations, there is no difference."

"This is a clear violation of the ‘equal protection of the law,’ set out in the U.S. Constitution. Denying me access to the Covid-19 vaccine in reality is a ‘threat’ to my life," he added.

Little has said that the state’s objective is to allocate limited quantities of the vaccine in a way that protects its most vulnerable residents while also preserving hospital capacity and staffing levels, the Associated Press reported.

The initial phase of the state's vaccination program aims to fill those goals by inoculating frontline care providers who are most likely to come into contact with Covid-19 patients as well as residents of long-term care facilities, where outbreaks have proven particularly deadly.

But Byrd argues that with the current strategy, state officials have “recklessly disregarded” the risks of older adults by allocating “the bulk of available Covid-19 vaccine" to younger health workers who face lower health risks from the virus.

Little has not commented on the lawsuit, and the state’s attorney general’s office told the AP it does not comment on pending litigation.

The state’s Covid Vaccine Advisory Committee was expected to meet Friday to discuss changes to the state's phase 2 rollout after federal officials released updated guidance that recommends separating essential workers into two categories.

As of Friday afternoon, 26,806 Idaho residents have received 28,194 doses of the vaccine, according to state data. Idaho has reported a total of 147,173 cases of Covid-19.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

NEXT STORY: Illinois Is First in the Nation to Extend Health Coverage to Undocumented Seniors