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State's New Allocation Policy Creates Confusion, Frustration For Some Counties

Vials of the Moderna vaccine sit in a cart at a Tama County vaccine clinic on Feb. 1.
Natalie Krebs
IPR file
Vials of the Moderna vaccine sit in a cart at a Tama County COVID-19 vaccine clinic on Feb. 1.

State officials announced last week that five counties had not hit the state's new requirement to use 80 percent of their COVID-19 primary doses and would not be receiving their allotment for this week, but that's confusing some counties.

State officials said they have made no changes to a new policy that would pause vaccine delivery for five Iowa counties, a policy that’s causing confusion for some of the affected counties.

Last week, state officials announced that five counties would not receive their weekly vaccine allotment in accordance with the state’s new requirement that counties administer at least 80 percent of their first doses before receiving their next allocation.

The move comes as Iowa has experienced one of the lowest vaccine allocation and administration rates in the country.

State officials declined to name the five counties affected on Friday, citing in a statement released by the Iowa Department of Public Health that doing so "does not support the intended outcome of the process, which is to give them time they need to shore up their administration process and get back on track to receive new allocations to Iowans."

But the AP has identified them as Washington, Chickasaw, Hancock, Poweshiek and Buchanan counties.

Tai Burkhart, the director of the Buchanan County Public Health Department, said the state informed her that her county's 400 dose allocation would be paused last Thursday, something she said was "probably the hardest thing I have experienced in all nine and a half years of my public health career."

Burkhart said her department had learned about the new 80 percent administration rule on Feb. 4, the same day they learned they would be getting consistent weekly allocations of 400 doses per week.

Prior to that, she said their weekly allocation varied from no doses to 400 doses, making it hard to plan.

Burkhart said her department had planned a mass vaccine clinic for 300 school employees and first responders on Saturday and informed state health officials that the clinic may throw off county numbers.

"And I told them why we were going to be short of that 80 percent because we had a very large clinic planned for Friday the 12th. And they were okay with it at that time. So we didn't change any of the plans," she said.

But on Thursday, Burkhart said state officials told her the county would not be receiving this week's allotment of 400 doses, due to not meeting that threshold.

"It felt like the county residents had been let down. And, you know, they were all anticipating — 400 people were anticipating getting doses this week. And then they hear, hear that news," she said.

Burkhart said she met with state legislators from the area, who said the county may be able to get its allocation back if it met a certain threshold.

At its Friday clinic, she said the county ended up vaccinating 390 people, borrowing 100 doses from another clinic to cover the extra residents, to make sure they were in accordance with state policy.

"Even though we had only anticipated to vaccinate 300, but we wanted to make sure that we more than exceeded the 80 percent rule," she said.

Burkhart said she was informed by Gov. Kim Reynolds' office today that the county could use its allocation of 360 boost doses as primary doses, and the state would replace them with more doses by Friday or Monday.

She said she hopes to get these doses on top of next week's allocation of 400 doses or anticipates potential delays in appointments.

Burkhart said the confusion has required some local providers to have to reschedule appointments for this week, and it's left Burkhart seeking answers from how the state is calculating its threshold.

"I don't know, if they're looking from Thursday to Wednesday, or if they're looking from Monday to Sunday. I am really not sure on how they're looking, how far back they're looking, or if they're including the doses that arrive that same week," she said.

Danielle Pettit-Majewski, the health director for Washington County, told the Des Moines Register that she explained to state officials that the county had failed to use 80 percent of its allocation because a blizzard delayed a vaccine clinic from Feb. 6 to Feb. 11, and said she believes the state will ship the county its full allocation of 300 doses this week.

Pettit-Majewski said she believed the situation was "caused by miscommunication, not bad intent."

On a phone call for seniors last Friday arranged by AARP, interim State Public Health Department Director Kelly Garcia said the administration policy is not supposed to punish counties who do not meet the threshold.

"We're gonna give them a little bit of a break to catch up," she said. "You know, that is really a measure not to be punitive to those five counties. We know how hard everyone is working."

IDPH Spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand said in a statement on Monday, that the state has not changed any plans to cancel the five counties' allocations that would have been shipped Friday, and said each county has reported it will not need to cancel any appointments or clinics due to the pause.

Ekstrand said the department is "confident" their allocations will resume next week.

Burkhart said the policy has brought her Buchanan County staff and residents more stress.

"And we don't need any more of that than what we already have," she said. "So that that's why it's just really frustrating when you work your hardest, and try to do your best. And then something like this happens."

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter