116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - Linn County residents with underlying medical conditions are eligible to begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations next week, public health officials have announced.
The county's plan comes as state public health officials announced last week with little notice that the vaccination program would be greatly expanded.
Until now, the state has focused on front-line health care workers, residents and staff at long-term care facilities, people over 65 and certain priority groups including first responders and educators.
The eligibility now also includes those under 65 with underlying medical conditions. The state pointed to a list of eligible conditions enumerated by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including cancer, heart conditions, pregnancy, smoking, diabetes, obesity and hypertension or high blood pressure, among several other conditions.
Beginning March 14, individuals ages 16 to 64 with the underlying conditions will be able to get shots from a Linn County provider - if they can find appointments.
Under this new criteria, 70 percent of Linn County's population now qualifies, said Heather Meador, Linn County Public Health clinic services supervisor.
'Most of our population is eligible,” she said. 'That means there's going to be a lot people looking for a vaccine while there's very little supply.”
Linn County Public Health officials said earlier that vaccine appointments for this week already were filled by residents 65 and older, and that they would honor those appointments.
But starting Monday, local public health officials will dedicate 80 percent of the county's allocated vaccine doses to people 65 and older, individuals ages 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions and people with disabilities and their caretakers.
The remaining 20 percent of the weekly vaccine allocation will go to those who qualify under the Phase 1A and Phase 1B tiers that already were in the rollout plan.
Linn County Public Health will continue to reserve a portion of the vaccine allocation for vulnerable populations, such as 'individuals without access to care, those with barriers accessing or using technology and multilingual populations.”
The county is expected to receive about 3,500 doses per week through the end of March, public health officials said.
The county won't dictate how that 80 percent allocation will go to the eligible groups. Instead, Meador said, local health care providers will determine their own process for offering vaccine appointments to residents, as they know their patient population and know best how to prioritize individuals.
Meador noted some health care providers have completed inoculations for those 65 and older, and others have a very small group of individuals with disabilities, so officials wanted to offer flexibility.
Local health care providers also will determine how they will prioritize certain medical conditions over others. The list from the CDC is broad and includes some conditions - including obesity and smoking habits - that are not captured by any data set.
'It will be up to the provider who has a relationship with that patient and knows that patient's medical history,” Meador said.
Pharmacies participating in the vaccine rollout through the federal Retail Pharmacy Program may begin offering shots to all eligible groups, including those with health conditions, starting Monday. Hy-Vee also receives an allocation of the vaccine from the state.
The appointments will be first-come, first-served.
Supply still is limited and the demand is increasing substantially, which means some residents may have to wait. The county public health department continues to ask for patience.
'Not everyone who is eligible for a vaccine will be able to schedule an appointment at this time,” it said. 'Linn County Public Health is working with all Linn County providers to ensure vaccine will eventually be available to everyone who wants it.”
Meador said some seniors have expressed fear they will have to wait even longer for a vaccine, and frustration that they will have work against even more people for an appointment.
'It was hard enough before, but this makes it that much harder for them,” she said.
However, Meador urged people to keep in mind that some people may have medical conditions that are not visible.
State officials had abruptly announced the change to the vaccine distribution plan last Thursday evening, giving county public health departments little to no warning about the expansion and little time to adjust their strategies.
Linn County adjusted how it will approach eligible Iowans who fall under Phase 1B tiers 1-5, which is where the rollout plan was at before the latest expansion.
Linn County Public Health will continue to work with businesses under those tiers, but with this new criteria most Iowans now are able to get a shot without being linked to an employer.
'We had specific plans in place to reach that population,” Meador said. 'Now that the criteria has expanded, all that planning is all for naught. Employees can qualify for a vaccine elsewhere, and the limited allocation is putting added stress on businesses.”
For more information about the county's vaccine distribution plan, call (319) 892-6097 or visit Linncounty.org/vaccine.
Older adults in need of a navigator to help schedule an appointment can call 211 or 800-244-7431. Older adults also can call their local Area Agency on Aging at 1-866-468-7887 for vaccine questions and transportation assistance.
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