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As Iowa Moves Into The Next Vaccination Phase, Demand Far Exceeds Supply

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Iowans will need to be patient when waiting for the COVID-19 vaccination, as supplies are very low.
Natalie Krebs
Gov. Kim Reynolds said Iowans will need to be patient when waiting for the COVID-19 vaccination, as supplies are very low.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced Iowa’s vaccination allocation is expected to increase by 16 percent next week, but demand for vaccinations will still far exceed supply as Iowa moves into phase 1B.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced starting next week, Iowa’s vaccine allocation will increase by 16 percent. But as the state moves into vaccine Phase 1B, demand for the vaccine will still far outstrip supply.

The state's current weekly allocation is about 39,000 first doses. About half of those doses are reserved for chain pharmacies CVS, Walgreens and Nebraska-based Community Pharmacy, which are contracted with the federal government to vaccinate Iowa's more than 700 nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

That has left the state with about 19,500 first doses per week, which have mainly gone to the state's health care workers, who are included in Phase 1A with long-term care facilities.

At a press conference Wednesday, Reynolds said starting next week, the number of Iowans who can get vaccinated should increase to about 25,800 per week with the expectation that this number should further increase once all of the state's long term care facilities are vaccinated. Reynolds says that process is nearly complete.

According to numbers released by the Iowa Department of Public Health on Wednesday afternoon, the state is expected to get 45,300 first doses of the vaccine starting the week of Feb. 8. Officials say they expect all vaccinations to go to the public as the state's long term care facilities are expected to have all received their first doses by then.

But as local and state health workers across the state prepare to start vaccinating Iowans under Phase 1B, Reynolds said many Iowans who fall under this next Phase will need to wait as the state's supply of doses is still very low.

"I know that that can be frustrating to hear. I know Iowans are very eager to get vaccinated and finally put COVID-19 behind them, and that time is coming but we just need to remain patient," she said.

Iowa Department of Public Health

Phase 1B includes Iowans ages 65 and older along with other frontline essential workers, broken into five tiers by state health officials. The first tier includes first responders, school staff and child care workers, a group consisting of about 130,000 people.

The number of Iowans ages 65 and older is estimated to be about 500,000, according to state health officials. They are allowed to be vaccinated under any tier in Phase 1B.

The high number of Iowans qualified to get vaccinations starting next week coupled with the state's relatively low allocation of doses has resulted in many Iowans struggling to get vaccination appointments at local clinics and pharmacies.

State officials initially said Iowans ages 75 and older would qualify for the vaccine under Phase 1B, citing concerns about vaccine supplies.

But Reynolds announced last week that the age cutoff would be lowered to 65, a decision she defended at Wednesday's press conference, pointing to a change in the CDC's guidelines made under the Trump administration.

"I think that that was the right thing to do. I've made it very clear to Iowans, you know, it's based on the supply that we receive, and right now the demand exceeds the supply," she said.

Other Midwestern states like Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois also have their age cutoff under Phase 1B at 65 and older.

Phase 1B is slated to start on Feb. 1, but some local health departments like Polk and Linn counties have already started accepting appointments for Iowans age 65 and older this week.

At a weekly meeting of emergency managers, Polk County Health Department Director Helen Eddy urged residents to be patient as appointments fill fast and are extremely hard to get.

Eddy said more than 61,000 Polk County residents are 65 and older, a number more than triple the entire state's current weekly allocation of vaccines for the general public.

"I want you to understand the scope of the task that we are trying to execute and undertake in an extremely limited vaccine supply situation," she said.

Eddy said the state's largest county is set up to work with its community partners and even open a mass vaccination clinic once supplies increase.

"We have many community pharmacies and clinics waiting to receive vaccine and begin vaccinations," she said.

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics CEO Suresh Gunasekaran said Tuesday the hospital is preparing to start vaccinating the general public starting next week.

He said the hospital is ready to start filling appointments late this week and early next week once they learn the amount of doses they will be allocated.

Gunasekaran said Iowans who are interested in getting vaccinated at UIHC will be able to express their interest through the hospital's website starting next week, which will help them plan for clinics and schedule appointments when doses increase.

Like other state and public health officials, Gunasekaran urged the public to be patient with the slow vaccine rollout, saying he's "confident" vaccine supply will increase in the near future.

"We don't want the public to get discouraged by the lack of availability or the difficulty in scheduling. We will get better with the supply. We will get better with the processes," he said.

The Biden administration says it is working to boost vaccine doses, setting an ambitious goal of 100 million doses in its first 100 days. On Tuesday, the administration announced it is working to buy 200 million more doses.

As of Wednesday,the state says it's administered 209,575 doses of the vaccine, with 40,331 people completing the two-dose series.

According to the CDC, Iowa has received 362,875 doses of the vaccine so far.

Editor's note: This post was updated Thursday, Jan. 28 at 8:00 a.m. to reflect updated vaccine dose numbers sent out by IDPH.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter