Iowa this week moved into the second phase of its vaccine rollout while the state’s stockpile remains low just a few days after it hit a new record amount of COVID deaths.
First responders, educators and Iowans age 65 or older are now able to join healthcare workers in receiving the vaccine, making about 20% of the state’s population eligible amid a particularly deadly stretch—on Sunday the Iowa Department of Public Health recorded 250 deaths, its highest single-day record.
But the new vaccine distribution phase has come as a frustration to some county employees and public health departments around the state who said the quickly announced increase in vaccine qualifiers won’t necessarily see their inoculations due to dose shortages.
“We were surprised when the recommendation was made to open availability to people 65 plus without an increase in supply and we weren’t ready. And I’m apologizing for this but make no mistake, we take care of our seniors,” said Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly in a recent press conference.
“We are very frustrated because we have had many of the process and procedures in place to vaccinate a large number of people, but we simply don’t have enough vaccines, and health department staff is working around the clock to administer the small amount of vaccine that we have.”
At her Wednesday press conference last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds said that Iowa’s weekly supply of vaccine doses rounds to about 45,000 per week—which doesn’t include second dose allotments. Under the new vaccine distribution phase, about 660,000 Iowans qualify.
“The nation’s current vaccine supply simply cannot keep up with the incredibly high demand,” Reynolds said.
Rural Iowa-based infectious disease specialist Megan Srinivas echoed Connolly’s frustrations over receiving news of the increased qualifiers without any preparation or planning from the state.
“Unfortunately, the communication between the Governor and even the county departments of health has been really lacking and there hasn’t been any transparency in how tiers are being selected and how and when they were going to open up the doors to the next levels of the phases,” she said.
“I know that several county health departments were caught off guard when they were suddenly told that everybody 65 plus was going to have access. And left our county health departments in very difficult situations, because suddenly they’re getting calls from everybody and didn’t know this was going to happen and didn’t have the system yet set up that was going to handle the signup and the influx of requests, let alone were aware of what vaccine we were going to get and when.”
Srinivas said that expanding vaccine qualifications in the state isn’t problematic in itself, it just would have been helpful for already strapped public health departments to be made aware of changes ahead of the public in order to prepare for increased requests.
“I think that it’s actually a good move to try to get more people qualified to get the vaccine. Because the more people we can get vaccinated and the faster we can do it, the sooner we can hopefully see transmission start to drop off,” Srinivas said. “So it’s good to open it up, the problem is the manner in which it happened.”
by Isabella Murray
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