CORONAVIRUS

When can I get the COVID vaccine in Iowa? And other vaccine questions answered

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo m
Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant in Portage, Mich., Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool)

DES MOINES — The COVID-19 pandemic reached Iowa nine months ago.

It has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 Iowans — including at least one in each of the state’s 99 counties — and has infected more than a quarter-million Iowans.

Businesses have been forced to close — some temporarily, others permanently — workers have found themselves out of a job and schools have tried to educate students virtually.

As the virus continues to surge through Iowa nine months into the pandemic, help is on the way. Three companies have created COVID-19 vaccines, and the federal government has approved the first on an emergency basis for mass public distribution.

Such an unprecedented effort creates many questions about the vaccine. Here are 10 of them, with answers from state officials, federal and state public health experts and the state’s 70-page vaccination strategy plan.

When will vaccines be available?

Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca say they have developed effective COVID-19 vaccines. Pfizer’s is farthest along and received emergency use approval late Friday.

Officials said barring unforeseen bumps in the road, they expect to receive a first batch of the Pfizer vaccine as soon as Monday, and then more deliveries each week through December.

State officials said the first batch of Moderna’s vaccine could be delivered the week of Dec. 20.

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State officials expect that, between the two vaccines, about 172,000 doses should arrive this month in Iowa.

Who gets it first and who decides that?

The vaccine distribution in Iowa is decided by state public health officials, who are using guidance from the federal government. The state has formed an advisory committee of experts to provide guidance.

Based on that federal advice, Iowa has determined the first doses will be made available to hospital and other health care workers, and staff and residents in long-term care facilities like nursing homes.

More than 120,000 Iowans work in hospitals and nursing and residential care settings, and more than 22,000 individuals live in certified nursing facilities, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Once those Iowans have received the vaccine, state officials have determined the vaccine at that point will be made available to workers who perform essential functions in workplace settings where it is difficult to socially distance.

That group, the state has determined, will include emergency and law enforcement personnel, food packaging and distribution workers, teachers and school staff and child care workers. Also at this point, residents of assisted living programs and elder group homes, and adults with medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 illness will be eligible.

Eventually the vaccine will become available to the rest of the public. Experts say that could take until spring or summer.

Where can I get the vaccine when ready?

For those people who have been prioritized, the vaccine will be made available through their workplace or the long-term care facility where they work or live.

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Some pharmacies also will be able to administer the vaccine to those early populations through a national program. CVS, Walgreens and Community Pharmacy have partnered with the federal government to help distribute the vaccine.

Once the vaccine becomes more widely available, the state will work to establish vaccination clinics at myriad sites, including pharmacies, community clinics, free clinics, nonprofit agencies, schools, community centers and more.

Will I be required to get the vaccine?

No state official has said Iowans will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

How much will the vaccine cost me?

The federal government is making all taxpayer-funded vaccine doses available for free.

Providers may charge an administrative fee for providing the shot, but that fee can be recouped through insurance or through a federal relief fund, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?

The federal approval process determines whether a vaccine is safe before approving its distribution. If the vaccines are approved by the federal government, those experts have determined it is safe for Americans to receive the vaccines as outlined in the approval.

The University of Iowa is among the sites that have conducted trials on the Pfizer vaccine — which means some people in Iowa already have received the vaccine in those clinical trials.

Is it the COVID-19 vaccine effective?

Based on trials conducted while developing the vaccines, Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines are both roughly 95 percent effective. AstraZeneca says its vaccine, which is in earlier stages of trials, is 70 percent effective.

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How many vaccine doses do you need?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require the individual to receive two doses, taken on separate occasions. The Pfizer vaccine must be taken three weeks apart, and the Moderna vaccine four weeks apart. Individuals must take the same company’s vaccine in both doses for it to be effective.

Skipping the second vaccine could render it ineffective, especially if many people do that, experts say. The federal government is paying providers significantly more to provide the second shot as an incentive for providers to ensure their patients receive both doses.

Why do I need a card and how can I get it?

Those who receive the vaccine will be given a COVID-19 vaccination record card when they receive the first dose.

The card will help public health officials determine who has received the vaccination, and help ensure individuals follow through with the second shot. It will contain only basic information, like name, date of birth, a patient number and dates.

Once I have the vaccine, Can I stop wearing a mask?

Public health experts recommend individuals who receive the vaccine continue to practice virus mitigation habits like washing hands, staying at least 6 feet away from others and wearing a face mask when in public around others.

“Experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change recommendations on steps everyone should take to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19,” the CDC says. “Other factors, including how many people get vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in communities, will also affect this decision.”

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please subscribe. Your subscription will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.