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VACCINE: Counties not prepared to move forward in distribution following eligibility expansion

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(KWWL) - County health departments across eastern Iowa are expecting delays in their ability to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to the newly announced eligible group. The IDPH announced on Thursday that those ages 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions will be eligible for the shot come Monday.

County health departments say they were not ready for the announcement and didn't have time to prepare. Some county health directors already announcing their inability to provide for this next group.

"This was a big pivot. Something that we did not expect, so we really need to group together, go through all this information, so we can make this as fair and as equitable as we can for our community members," Linn County Public Health's Heather Meador said.

In multiple counties, there are still individuals age 65 or older, essential workers, and many others who fall into the eligible Phase 1B tiers who have yet to be vaccinated. The expanded group is in Phase 1C.

Some health departments have started to accept the Phase 1C population onto waiting lists, but in many counties, they will not be prioritized just yet. Linn County Public Health, for example, will not start vaccinating this group until the week of March 15. Appointments are already scheduled for the week of March 8, and vaccines are allocated.

Dubuque County Health still has about 8,000 people to vaccinate from previous groups, which is the case in many other counties as well.

"Well we're going to continue to get the same amount of vaccine we've been getting, which is 2,340 doses a week, and based on what the state receives, we may see some increases in that, but it will be on short notice," Dubuque County Public Health Specialist Mary Rose Corrigan said.

The CDC lists the conditions that qualify under this new group, which include obesity, diabetes, cancer, and many more. This expansion will mean that tens of thousands of Iowans will be eligible, as IDPH reports about half of the population is considered obese.

"We know that chronic health conditions affect a lot of Iowans, people in Dubuque, and all over the country and particularly they affect people in that 16 to 64-year-old age group, so it's going to be a big number," Corrigan said.

Buchanan County Health Director suggests reaching out to other resources to try and get on a vaccine list, and make an appointment if you fall into the Phase 1C group.

With only 400 doses arriving weekly in Buchanan County it may be a few more weeks until we can allocate the majority of the vaccine to those who qualify in Phase 1C. At this time we are encouraging those qualifying in Phase 1C and who are able to travel to try to sign up to get their vaccine through the pharmacies involved in the Federal Pharmacy Program.

Buchanan County Public Health Director Tai Burkhart

Pharmacies in the federal Retail Pharmacy Program receive their own allocations of vaccines and serve those eligible on a first come first serve basis. Pharmacies that are participating in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program can be found here.

County health departments are still figuring out how to distribute their limited supply of weekly vaccines, so they are asking for patience. Each county has been posting updates on its websites and social media pages.

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Diego Hernandez

Multimedia Journalist

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