CORONAVIRUS

While vaccination progress improving, 'we can be better,' Reynolds says

Memo shows state officials concerned about 'lower than expected' allocation

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds addresses Iowans during her weekly press conference on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Johnston, Iowa,
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds addresses Iowans during her weekly press conference on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Johnston, Iowa, where she provided updates on the COVID-19 vaccination efforts. (Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register via AP)

JOHNSTON — Days after state officials met with White House staff to better understand why Iowa ranks “lower than expected” in getting allocations of the coveted COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday her administration continues its efforts to accelerate the rate of inoculations.

Iowa remains among the roughly half dozen states with the lowest vaccination rates in the nation. Approximately 9 percent of adult Iowans have received at least the first of two shots, according to federal data.

Reynolds said her administration is working with counties that are facing challenges distributing the vaccine, with pharmacies to ensure long-term care staff and residents are vaccinated and that any leftover doses are given to the state — and now with Microsoft to develop a website where Iowans will, some weeks from now, be able to register for a vaccination.

Iowa currently is in phase 1B of the vaccine rollout, aimed chiefly at people older than 65 and several priority groups including teachers and first responders.

The program has not opened up yet to a broad section of the public.

Reynolds said a continuing issue is that Iowa is just not receiving as many doses of the vaccines as other states.

“The biggest problem of all of this has been the amount of vaccine that we receive,” Reynolds said Wednesday during a news conference at Iowa PBS studios. “I don’t care what kind of system you had in place, that’s just not enough vaccines to really do what we needed to do. So as we see that ramp up, we’re going to continue to enhance and make our systems more efficient, more effective work with our partners and every day we’re seeing that get better and better.”

Still, Iowa has administered just 68.2 percent of the vaccine doses it has received, according to federal data. That puts Iowa in the middle of the pack, with the 26th-highest rate among all states.

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Reynolds said some counties’ distribution efforts have been slowed by inclement weather, and others by a lack of resources. She said the state is working to help any counties that need it.

“Just in a week the amount of efficiencies that we’ve been able to put in place and the increase in the percentage of vaccines administered is good,” Reynolds said. “We can be better. We’re working on it. But when you consider weather and what we’ve had to deal with … we’re going to keep working on those numbers and we’re going to keep getting better at the process.”

Reynolds previously raised concerns that Iowa is receiving fewer vaccine doses when compared with its population than other states.

Wednesday, Reynolds said she has discussed the issue with Gen. Gus Perna, head of the federal government’s vaccine distribution program.

Iowa’s U.S. senators have jumped into the fray as well: Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst said they have called on the federal government to ensure Iowa is receiving its fair share.

In a letter Tuesday to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Grassley and Ernst asked the agency to release its weekly formula for state allocations to “build confidence in the vaccine distribution process.”

State officials have told local public health agencies they plan to change the way Iowa orders COVID-19 vaccine doses from federal officials after the U.S. vaccine allocation tracking system showed Iowa’s rankings in the number of allocations per capita — among the worst in the nation — are “lower than actuality.”

Iowa Department of Public Health officials sent a memo earlier this week to county public health departments informing them they will order doses allocated to the state sooner each week than they had.

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However, state officials could not say whether this would result in shots reaching Iowans sooner, instead noting this helps “streamline” the allocation process for the state’s vaccine providers.

In the memo obtained by The Gazette, the department told local agencies that state officials met with White House officials last Friday over the state’s poor ranking. As of earlier this week, data from the CDC put Iowa at the bottom of states for vaccines administered per 100,000 population.

State officials indicated in the memo the poor ranking stemmed from the timing of the state’s vaccine orders. Doses became available for states to order through the federal system VTrckS on Thursday evening, but unlike most states, Iowa waited until a few days later to place an order.

According to the memo, “this has caused a significant public misperception that Iowa is either not receiving or not ordering all available doses.”

State officials waited days to orders because of “inconsistencies Iowa experienced in federal allocation projections in December,” the memo states, referring to shifting planning numbers from U.S. officials.

Starting this week, Iowa officials will now order COVID-19 vaccines on Thursday evening.

State officials noted that Iowa already orders every dose available to it.

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