The Iowa Department of Public Health launched a new site on Friday that is intended to make finding a COVID-19 vaccine provider for Iowans currently eligible to be vaccinated easier.
“Vaccinate.iowa.gov will provide information about eligibility resources available to assist Iowans, and answers to frequently asked questions,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said, announcing the site at her news conference on Thursday. “It will also include a vaccine locator, so you can find providers near you, click through to their websites to check availability and to get details about scheduling.”
“But I want to be clear: you cannot schedule an appointment on this site, or register to be contacted when scheduling is available. But it will connect you to a provider for scheduling in their system.”
Reynolds later said the site “will be kind of a one-stop shop.” One-stop shop is the same phrase the governor used to announce on Feb. 4 that IDPH would be hiring a contractor to create a website that would serve as a centralized “vaccine registration and appointment scheduling system.” The application period for companies to submit proposals for the site, as well as “a centralized COVID-19 vaccine call center for Iowans to call with questions… and receive assistance with registering and scheduling a vaccine appointment” was only open for 24 hours and 45 minutes.
Three days after the application period closed, IDPH announced it was awarding the contract for the website and centralized scheduling system to Microsoft, and a different vendor would eventually be selected for the call center.
Four days after that announcement, IDPH issued a statement saying it was canceling the plans for a new vaccine call center. The statement did not include a reason for the change.
Then at her news conference on Feb. 17, Reynolds said the state would not be awarding the contract for the website to Microsoft or anyone else.
“It quickly became apparent that integrating the many already-existing registration and scheduling platforms that are used by some of our public health departments, pharmacies as well as other vaccine providers, it would not be possible in a timely manner without significant disruption to their current systems and we did not want to slow down the process — or, excuse me — the progress that we’re making,” the governor said, explaining why her administration had changed directions.
In place of the previously announced centralized scheduling site, Reynolds said her administration was “shifting our focus from building a different system to optimizing the overall registration and scheduling process for Iowans. And this will be done in close partnership with, again, our local public healths and our vaccine providers.”
The result is vaccinate.iowa.gov.
Eligible individuals can enter their zip code and receive a list of vaccine providers within anywhere from a five- to 100-mile radius. Links to providers sites are available, so people can follow the registration steps on the provider’s site.
Vaccine.iowa.gov has a Google Translate plug-in on its homepage, so the site is available in a wide variety of languages, including unlikely ones, such as Luxembourgish and Esperanto. But the Chin language does not appear to be an option. It is spoken by a large number of immigrants from Burma, also known as Myanmar, many of whom work at meatpacking plants. The plug-in does offer Burmese as an option.
The governor said on Thursday information on the site “will be updated often.”
“The website is just one of the solutions that we’re putting in place to better assist Iowans,” Reynolds told reporters at the news conference.
Starting the week of March 8, senior citizens will also be able to call 211, IDPH’s phone number for COVID-19 information, to speak to a staff member who will help them find a vaccine provider and schedule an appointment.
The service will only be available to those 65 and older.
After calling 211, once the program begins, the person will be connected to someone who will “ask them some questions and take some very basic information, including their names and birthdates, so that they can schedule an appointment for them at a nearby Hy-Vee pharmacy,” the governor explained.
The 211 assistance won’t begin until the week of March 8, because next week IDPH staff tasked to help seniors schedule appointments will be assisting people who have already called their local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) for help scheduling a vaccination. (The state’s AAAs have a central phone number for seniors needing assistance with vaccinations and other issues, 800-532-3213.)
Starting at her Feb. 4 news conference, Reynolds has told Iowans 65 and older to call one of the six AAAs located around the state if they need help scheduling an appointment. Those still waiting to hear back about vaccination should receive a call during the coming week, the governor said on Thursday.
“If you get a call from a 211 vaccine navigator, they will only ask you to confirm your name, birthdate and county of residence,” she said. “They will not ask for your health insurance information, Social Security or credit card number.”
University of Iowa Health Care issued a warning this week about a phishing scam in which callers claim to be able to set up vaccination appointments if the person provides information like a Social Security number or a credit card number. Real vaccine schedulers will never ask for such information over the phone.
“If you get this call, hang up,” UIHC advised.
During her news conference on Thursday, Reynolds said the Biden administration informed governors this week another 1 million doses would be added to the vaccine allotments shipped to states next week.
As more vaccine becomes available, Iowa will be able to continue to increase its rate of vaccination, the governor said. She added that she anticipates eligibility to be vaccinated may be expanded by the middle of next month.