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Vast Majority Of Iowa's Counties Decline COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation

Federal officials recommended a pause in the use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine while it investigates severe blood clots in six people who received it. But this has affected vaccine clinics in Iowa targeting vulnerable residents who may struggle to get to a follow up appointment.
Mohammad Shahhosseini
The vast majority of Iowa counties have declined their weekly allocation of COVID-19 vaccine doses amid declining demand.

As demand for the COVID-19 vaccine continues to drop, Iowa health officials say they’ve accepted just 12 percent of the vaccine allocation from the federal government this week.

Iowa Department of Public Health Spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand said in an email the state was allocated 63,090 doses for the week of May 24. It accepted 7,850 doses.

Eighty-one of Iowa’s 99 counties didn’t accept any new doses this week. Seventeen counties accepted part of their allocation, and just Calhoun County accepted its entire 200 dose allocation.

"There really isn't a big story there," said Barb Riley, the director of the Calhoun County health department. "Our immunization nurse is going to go on maternity leave, and so we just ordered it."

Riley said the county wanted to have the extra doses of the Moderna vaccine on hand during the nurse's leave as it can be stored in a freezer for months.

She said vaccinations have "really slowed down" in Calhoun County, with only a handful of people initiating the vaccine series every week. She estimated about 43 percent of its total population is fully vaccinated, a number that's on par with statewide rates.

According to the New York Times, 43 percent of Iowa's total population is vaccinated, ranking it 16th in the country.

"Right now, we're running ads in the paper," Riley said. "We're thinking about doing things like in parades with this, you know, the events that are coming up this summer."

Greene County Public Health Department Director Becky Wolf said her county's seen a major slowdown in vaccinations as well, despite their recent efforts to target certain groups like those experiencing homelessness and Spanish-speakers.

"There are still people out there that, unfortunately, are basing their decision to get vaccinated on inaccurate information," she said.

Wolf said she estimates about 40 percent of Greene County's population is fully vaccinated, a number they haven't been able to move in two weeks, even with the Food and Drug Administration's recent emergency authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 12 to 15.

Wolf said her county split a flat of Pfizer vaccinations, which amounts to 1,170 doses, with neighboring Carroll County. She said they hoped they could vaccinate at least 40 percent of kids ages 12 to 18 at school-based clinics last week.

"But we didn't hit that at all," she said. "It was about eight percent of the enrolled kids were vaccinated with the first go.”

Earlier this month, state health officials said they were shifting vaccine strategy amid declining demand. They're directing local health departments to focus on getting individuals vaccinated over wasting doses and hosting "micro clinics" targeting certain populations over mass vaccination clinics, which have been poorly attended.

Nola Aigner-Davis, the spokesperson for the Polk County health department, said they've been taking a more targeted approach to their vaccination efforts recently.

"We continue to work really heavily with some of our communities [where] English may not be their first language and to address any cultural, medical or religious barriers," she said. "We're doing this a lot in our ethnic-based community organizations."

Aigner-Davis said the department will be working on more vaccine campaign efforts this summer, which have yet to be announced.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter