CORONAVIRUS

Iowans 65 and older will be eligible for COVID vaccine starting Feb. 1

Officials warn that there are more eligible Iowans than vaccine doses available, ask for patience

Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state's response to the coronavirus outbreak during a Sept. 29 news conference in Johnston
Gov. Kim Reynolds updates the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak during a Sept. 29 news conference in Johnston. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

JOHNSTON — Hundreds of thousands more Iowans are about to become eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine starting next month, but demand for the shots will outweigh supply early in the process, state officials said Thursday.

Iowa intends to begin the second phase of its vaccination program the week of Feb. 1, at which time Iowans who work in law enforcement, emergency response, K-12 education and child care will become eligible to receive the doses — as will any Iowans ages 65 or older, not just 75 and older as the state had announced earlier.

However, the number of newly eligible Iowans — more than 660,000, the state estimates — will outnumber the number of vaccine doses available, according to state officials, who asked for patience from the public.

“You can see this is no small undertaking,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said Thursday during a televised news conference at Iowa PBS studios. “Iowans will need to be patient. The vaccines will be coming … it’s just going to take some time.”

The state is completing the first phase of the vaccine rollout, which Reynolds acknowledged has been going slower than expected. She said an insufficient allotment of doses has slowed the process of getting vaccines to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Reynolds said she has been assured the first doses for the initial phase will be completed by the end of the month. With the second doses required to be administered three or four weeks later, that means the first phase would be over by the end of February.

Reynolds said the state receives roughly 19,500 vaccine doses per week, and that the state immediately distributes those to ensure they get to Iowans as quickly as possible. She said Iowa is receiving fewer doses per capita than most states, and is working with the state’s congressional leaders to learn why.

One she reached out to, Democratic U.S. Rep Cindy Axne, said it was “unacceptable” for Iowa to get such a small share.

“Iowa has among the oldest populations of any state — and we have thousands of at-risk Iowans, both in our nursing homes and in other congregate living — and we need to get them vaccinated as soon as possible, as well as keep us on track to begin vaccinating Iowa’s working population to ensure we can get our economy back on track and children safely back to school,” Axne said in an email statement.

Reynolds said despite that slow rollout of the first phase, the state will begin the second phase in February. She said the prospect of new vaccines coming to the market and working with a new federal administration could boost the number of doses allotted in the coming weeks.

The second phase of the state’s vaccine distribution plan is broken into five tiers. The first tier includes all Iowans 65 years or older, plus workers in law enforcement, emergency response, K-through-12 education and child care.

The second tier includes workers in food processing, manufacturing, agriculture and other essential jobs where social distancing at work is difficult. The second tier also includes any Iowans living with disabilities in home settings.

The third tier includes any workers in congregate settings not covered by the previous tier, and state lawmakers and state government staff at the Iowa State Capitol.

The fourth tier includes health and safety inspectors, and the fifth tier includes staff and inmates at correctional facilities.

“We know everyone wishes this would move faster,” Kelly Garcia, interim director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said during the news conference. “The demand for this phase is tremendous and supply remains constrained.”

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Iowans who will soon become eligible to receive the vaccine will be notified by a number of possible sources, most likely their employer, local pharmacy or local county public health department.

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