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Our View: So many questions, so few answers about vaccine availability

Our View: So many questions, so few answers about vaccine availability

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Julie Adkins, a registered nurse and team lead at All Care Health Center, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Quality Improvement Director Kristen Hendershot on Dec. 23, 2020. Pottawattamie County Public Health Department said this weed the county needs 3,000 more doses to vaccinate the rest of the local healthcare workers.

Where are Iowa’s vaccine doses? How many do we have? And when are we going to get more?

The state’s response to a growing number of questions concerning COVID-19 vaccinations leaves a lot to be desired.

Given the severity of the pandemic, the public’s overwhelming eagerness to return to something akin to normalcy, and the urgency expressed by community public health officials throughout the state, the notion that any county is sitting on unused dosed of the vaccine — be it Pfizer’s or Moderna’s — seems odd to say the least.

Yet, that appears to be the claim being made by the Iowa Department of Health. On Monday, state health officials sent a letter to county public health departments and health care providers saying they need to administer the vaccine at a more rapid pace.

“We write to you today with a sense of urgency. While it’s encouraging to see there are now Iowans in all 99 counties that have been vaccinated for COVID-19, we are not yet administering vaccines at the rate we had projected,” Interim Director Kelly Garcia and Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state’s public health medical director and epidemiologist, said in the letter. “As we continue to receive additional vaccine doses weekly from the federal government, it’s increasingly important that we accelerate the vaccination of priority groups to keep pace. Otherwise, we’re concerned that the amount of unused vaccine may grow if allocated amounts are not used in a timely manner.”

What rate? And who is lagging behind? It’s certainly not Pottawattamie County, as county Public Health Director Matt Wyant can attest. Since the week of Christmas, the county has received 2,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine, and all of those have been given to local and county healthcare workers and fire department first responders.

In her press conference on Dec. 3, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in the month of December (Dec. 13-27 roughly), the state would receive 172,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be distributed throughout the state. Mind you the population of Iowa is about 2.4 million, but the announcement came as a hopeful start, one Reynolds herself dubbed a “light at the end of the tunnel.”

Turns out, the distance to the light may be a bit of an optical illusion, and we’re curious to know what the state is doing about it — other than sending vague letters to public health officials.

On Tuesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health confirmed it would not be releasing county-level information on vaccine distribution, citing confidentiality related to Iowa code. County public health officials, including Wyant, had asked for transparency regarding distribution.

As of Wednesday early afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker showed that 60,137 people in the state had received the first dose of vaccine. The CDC reported 120,175 doses have been distributed to the state.

It’s important to note that the vaccines require two doses: Pfizer’s three weeks apart and Moderna’s four weeks apart. During the same press conference, Reynolds and Kelly Garica, director of the state health department, both said a second round of doses would arrive to communities in time to complete the vaccination process for those who were the first to receive it, meaning there would be no need for the counties to conserve their doses to ensure a complete vaccination process for those who received it first. That means those who received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine the week of Christmas, need to receive their second dose in the week of Jan. 17-23.

This poses even more questions: Will those people receive their second vaccination in time, and what happens if they don’t? Which gets us back to: What is the hold up?

“We are set up and ready to go, the only thing we need is vaccine,” Wyant told The Nonpareil. “I’m struggling to understand where the state sees the hold up. If they’d up their allotments, local public health could get out to priority groups.”

Wyant said the state has not been transparent in discussing allocations, including why allocations have been cut from initial projections. Additionally, the state has been announcing how much vaccine will come on a Monday, with it arriving early the next week.

“The real lack in transparency coming from IDPH has been a struggle. We’ve planned and planned, but when you only have a week and a half to put it together and have enough people there, it’s tough,” Wyant said. He added that he has worked with local elected officials to press the state health department for additional information.

We share Wyant’s frustration. But then, transparency has never been the strong suit of the Reynolds’ administration, so why should this situation be any different?

Aside from the fact that we are talking about the lives of Iowans, the economic and overall stability of the state is also at risk if the state’s response to the pandemic continues in the disorganized, behind-closed-doors fashion it has been so far.

We Iowans deserve real answers.

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