CORONAVIRUS

Iowans 65 to 74 will have to wait longer for COVID vaccine under state's plan

Iowans 75 and older, essential workers, those with medical conditions next in line for distribution starting Feb. 1

Syringes are seen prepared along with bandages to give doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to health care work
Syringes are seen prepared along with bandages to give doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to health care workers at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City on Dec. 14, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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Older adults, those with underlying medical conditions and certain essential workers could receive the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the beginning of next month, state officials say.

Officials from the state public health agency told state legislators Tuesday they expect to pivot to the next phase of the coronavirus vaccine distribution plan by Feb. 1, moving beyond front-line health care workers and beginning to inoculate other essential workforces and those most at risk for severe illness.

The process to inoculate this population likely will cover several weeks, officials said.

Here is the list of populations who qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine under Phase 1B of the state's distribution plan:. Individuals aged 75 years and older

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“But we need everyone to understand that you won’t necessarily get the vaccine by Feb. 2. You may not even get it by the end of February,” Ken Sharp, Iowa Department of Public Health official overseeing COVID-19 vaccination in Iowa, told members of the Iowa House Human Resources Committee.

However, the vaccine against the novel coronavirus only will be offered to those aged 75 and older, according to recommendations released by IDPH Tuesday afternoon. Those recommendations differ from federal guidelines that suggest anyone aged 65 and old be prioritized.

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The Infectious Disease Advisory Council, the state group tasked with developing vaccine distribution guidelines, made this recommendation “due to the current and short-term projections for vaccine allocation in Iowa,” according to a news release.

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Other groups included in the next step of the plan, Phase 1B, include school and child care staff, first responders, correctional facility staff and inmates, staff and individuals living in congregate settings such as behavioral health treatment centers and disabled Iowans and their caregivers.

State officials also are prioritizing workers at food, distribution and manufacturing facilities, including meatpacking plants. These individuals, who live in and work in congregate settings that make social distancing impossible, have experienced frequent outbreaks of clusters of illness throughout the pandemic.

The state’s advisory council stated it “strongly supports that no individual shall be restricted from obtaining a vaccine based on residency or citizenship,” according to a news release.

Kelly Garcia, interim director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, modified the advisory group’s recommendations to include lawmakers, government officials and staff in this priority group, to ensure continuity of government.

Possible increased supply could trigger broader distribution

At this time, state public health officials are focused on vaccinating Phase 1A populations, which includes front-line health care workers as well as residents and staff at long-term care facilities.

Inoculation of individuals at the long-term care facilities — being handled through a federal partnership with three major retail pharmacies — is expected to complete the first doses by the end of this month.

Garcia told legislators it will require between 300,000 to 400,000 doses to complete the vaccinations for Phase 1A populations statewide. To date, Iowa has allocated 226,000 doses.

Many recipients of these doses are prevalent in certain counties with a high concentration of health care workers, including Johnson, Linn and Polk counties. Of the more than 91,500 vaccine doses administered as of Monday, about 9,400 were given to Johnson County residents and nearly 6,800 were administered to Linn County residents, according to state data.

Vaccination for Phase 1B groups will begin as soon as the health care workforce in Iowa has reached 60 percent to 70 percent coverage, Garcia said,

Vaccines administered to essential workers will be coordinated through employer-based clinics.

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In addition, approximately 1,700 providers — including health care clinics and retail pharmacies — have enrolled with the state to administer doses to local residents, according to the news release from the state public health department.

Should there be a shortage of vaccines allocated to the state by federal officials, Garcia said Iowa will prioritize half its vaccine doses to the priority age populations and those with health conditions that put them at risk for severe COVID-19 illness.

The remaining half would be prioritized to populations who face high risk of exposure.

Federal officials told state governments this week it will release a “significant additional supply” of the vaccine to states in the near future. Garcia said state officials have yet to receive further details, but added this increased availability will be based on each state’s ability to distribute supply quickly to at-risk populations, including those aged 65 years and older.

“Once we have reasonable confidence that supply meets the demands of this broader eligibility criteria, we will activate the broader distribution criteria,” officials said in the news release.

“From the very beginning from this distribution effort, it has been our goal to reach all Iowans.”

Comments: (319) 398-8469; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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