Iowa's U.S. House members call for sending COVID-19 vaccine to community health centers

Clinics reach America's 'most vulnerable communities,' Rep. Ashley Hinson says

Nurse Kristen Van Scoyoc administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Eduardo Malamut of Coralville during a Feb. 3 vacci
Nurse Kristen Van Scoyoc administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Eduardo Malamut of Coralville during a Feb. 3 vaccination clinic at the University of Iowa Health Support Services Building in Coralville. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Iowa community health centers, which reach underserved and vulnerable populations, should be included in the Biden administration’s distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, U.S. Rep. Ashley Hinson said in a letter to federal health officials.

The “oversight” of omitting Iowa’s community health centers from the 25-center pilot project can be rectified by including the state community health centers in the next round of direct vaccination support to the 250 federally qualified health centers, the 1st District Republican wrote.

Iowa’s other representatives — 2nd District Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and 4th District Rep. Randy Feenstra, both Republicans, and 3rd District Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne — joined Hinson in the letter to Health and Human Services secretary-designee Xavier Becerra and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky.

“We are heartened by your intention to work directly with (community health centers) to expand vaccine access,” Hinson wrote.

Although each state is guaranteed additional doses for one federally qualified health center, the Iowa representatives urged the administration to consider Iowa’s “meritorious requests ... and offer the direct vaccine partnership to as many of these critical locations as possible.”

“Based on all available evidence, such a determination will yield positive health outcomes in communities most in need of federal support,” they said.

The White House has announced another 5 percent increase in vaccine supply — a 28 percent increase over the past three weeks — as part of its effort to vaccinate 100 million people in the first 100 days of the Biden administration.

The administration recently announced plans to direct COVID-19 vaccines from the federal stores to federally qualified health centers.

The U.S. House delegation supports the administration’s intention to count those vaccine doses separately from the state’s regular allocation.

After visiting the Crescent Community Health Center in Dubuque on Wednesday, Hinson tweeted, “As Iowa lags behind in COVID-19 vaccinations, it is critical that Iowa community health centers be included when the Biden administration sends additional doses to federally qualified health centers across the country.”

Crescent, she said, serves a disproportionate share of Marshallese-speaking constituents. Many of Iowa’s federally qualified health centers also act as a COVID-19 testing locations.

In their letter, the Iowa House members said the state’s nearly 70 community health centers play a vital role in reaching underserved communities.

“While this pandemic has made it abundantly clear that all types of health care providers are heroes, community health centers play a special and particular role — they reach America’s most vulnerable communities,” Hinson wrote. “These centers also bring mental and behavioral health care into communities in dire need of those services, especially during the stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Iowa’s federally qualified health centers are positioned as the U.S. government’s best potential vaccination partners, according to the House members.

“They stand ready and able to administer COVID-19 vaccines to our most vulnerable constituents — and they should be given the opportunity to do so,” they wrote, adding the community health centers are well-integrated into their local communities, including the rural and lowest-income areas in the state.

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