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Iowa's vaccination rate is climbing slowly, but some parts of the state lag far behind

A person in blue gloves administers a shot into someone's arm.
National Cancer Institute
State public health officials say Iowa’s overall vaccination rate keeps inching up, but certain groups and parts of the state are lagging behind.

State public health officials say Iowa’s overall vaccination rate keeps inching up, but certain groups and parts of the state are lagging behind. Meanwhile, COVID-19 hospitalizations and the state’s test positivity rate have started to increase again.

According to state data, 71 percent of Iowans age 12 and up have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 68.3 percent of Iowans age 18 and up are fully vaccinated. Thousands of 5- to 11-year-olds got their first dose in the past week.

“We still have, as everybody recognizes, a ways to go,” said Ken Sharp, a division director with the Iowa Department of Public Health. “But we are making progress. And the numbers do continue to improve, and we continue to see new Iowans come into that dataset and get their first vaccine. We’re just going to continue to grind away at getting those numbers as high as we possibly can.”

On Wednesday, the number of Iowans hospitalized with COVID-19 was 524, up from 464 two weeks ago. The test positivity rate was 8.9 percent, up from 8.4 percent two weeks ago. More than 7,160 Iowans have been confirmed to have died of COVID-19.

Sharp told the State Board of Health Wednesday that middle-aged white men have a lower vaccination rate, as do 20- to 30-year-olds. And that some counties in southeast and northwest Iowa have lower vaccination rates.

The state’s coronavirus websiteshows Lyon County in the northwest has 44.7 percent of its 18 and up population fully vaccinated, and Davis County in the southeast is at 44.9 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, Buena Vista County in northwest Iowa has 78.7 percent of its 18 and up population fully vaccinated, and Dallas County in central Iowa is at 73.5 percent.

Sharp said conversations with health care providers have been the most effective tool for getting people vaccinated. He said IDPH is also holding focus groups to determine the reasons for hesitancy in those areas and to find trusted messengers to encourage vaccination.

Sharp said there have been zero valid reports of deaths in Iowa caused by the COVID-19 vaccines.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has joined three lawsuits challenging the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates for large employers, federal contractors and health care facilities. She has encouraged adult Iowans to get vaccinated, and said parents should talk to their children’s doctors about vaccinating their kids.

More than 7,000 Iowa kids ages 5 to 11 got their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday, according to Sharp. Pfizer’s pediatric dose of the vaccine was approved last week, making more than 280,000 Iowa kids eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

“There are some, I think, frustrations we’re hearing that parents weren’t able to get the vaccine where they would normally go to get the vaccine,” Sharp said. “And I think it’s just a matter of timing. We’re still taking that as positive news that parents are excited about getting their kids vaccinated and looking for that vaccine very quickly.”

Sharp said Iowa got 99,000 pediatric vaccine doses in its first order and has already ordered 24,000 more. Some major pharmacy chains were able to order thousands of additional doses on their own.

IDPH plans to eventually put the number of pediatric doses administered and the number of booster shots given in the state on Iowa’s coronavirus website.

IDPH searches for new medical director

The IDPH recently started its search for a new state medical director after Dr. Caitlin Pedati resigned in late October.

Interim public health department director Kelly Garcia told the State Board of Health Wednesday that she is making some changes to the job.

Pedati served as both the state medical director and the lead epidemiologist. Garcia said those duties will now be separated into two positions after getting input from state and federal stakeholders.

“This is a really, really key hiring for a number of different reasons,” Garcia said. “I’ve already received a little bit of interest, which is exciting to hear that folks are invigorated despite what we have gone through with our pandemic response, there are still Iowans who are highly qualified and engaged and are wanting to serve in this space.”

Garcia said the new state medical director will be the head of public health after the department merges with the Department of Human Services.

The opening for a lead epidemiologist had not been posted as of Wednesday.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter