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Opening vaccine eligibility to all Iowa seniors could bring ‘chaos’ — here’s Johnson County’s plan

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Navy Seaman Milan Torres prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Dec. 14, 2020. — Lisa Ferdinando/Department of Defense

Johnson County residents 65 and older, and those in Tier 1 of Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination plan, become eligible to receive the first of their two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, but they shouldn’t count on getting their jabs right away, the Johnson County Public Health Department said in a statement on Thursday afternoon.

“While Phase 1B is expected to begin on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, please understand when local public health is allocated doses in the hundreds or low thousands, completing vaccination of everyone in Phase 1A and those included in Phase 1B will take weeks to months,” according to JCPH Community Health Manager Sam Jarvis.

Phase 1A involved the vaccination of frontline healthcare workers, as well as long-term care facility residents and their caregivers. People eligible as part of Phase 1B have been sorted into five tiers.

First responders, child welfare social workers, PreK-12 teachers and school staff, and childcare workers make up Tier 1 of the new phase.

People in Tier 1 “will be directed to specific COVID-19 vaccine provider pharmacies,” JCPH said. The department “is currently contacting and assisting leadership in prioritizing staff at these organizations. If you work in these occupations, closely monitor communication from your employer and JCPH. Those in Tier 1 Phase 1B should not call pharmacies unless instructed to do so by Johnson County Public Health or their employer.”

On Jan. 12, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) revised its vaccination guidelines to recommend states begin vaccinating everyone 65 and older. After the HHS announced the change, the Iowa Department of Public Health said it would expand its plans to include all those 65 and older after it had “reasonable confidence that supply meets demand of this broader eligibility criteria, we will activate the broader distribution criteria.”

IDPH had originally intended to limit vaccination to those 75 and older starting on Feb. 1, but during her Jan. 21 news conference, Gov. Reynolds said the state would lower the age of eligibility to 65.

According JCPH, its hospital partners, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) and Mercy Iowa City, will begin vaccinating those 65 and older on Feb. 1.

UIHC and Mercy Iowa City will proactively reach out to a very limited amount of people who are eligible patients. There are no walk-ins available. Those residents 65 and older, or their loved ones, should not contact these hospitals, other health care providers, pharmacies or JCPH to ask for the vaccine. A high volume of calls makes it more difficult to address patients and others with immediate needs. At this time, there is no public sign-up for individuals. UIHC and Mercy Iowa City are currently contacting patients directly.

More information about COVID-19 vaccinations in Johnson County can be found on JCPH’s Conronavirus Information Hub.

Speaking to the Des Moines Register, Lina Tucker Reinders, executive director of the Iowa Public Health Association, said the state’s decision to open vaccination to all Iowa’s senior citizens while vaccine supplies are still so limited will create problems for local public health agencies.

“It’s going to be chaos,” Tucker Reinders said.

Dr. Jorge Salinas, head of epidemiology at UIHC, pointed to another concern. Making all seniors immediately eligible for vaccination may cause other vulnerable people to wait longer for their vaccinations.

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“At the end of the day, who’s going to be the last to get the doses?” Salinas told the Register. “The poor, the people who are most likely to get COVID.”

Salinas said he was also concerned about the difficulties seniors without computers, or those who face the prospect of having to make multiple phone calls, may face trying to schedule a vaccination.

During her news conference on Wednesday, Gov. Reynolds said that IDPH will be adding a new dashboard with statistics about vaccination to its COVID-19 information site “later this week” that would include an interactive map that displays lists of vaccine providers by county.

Those lists will have links and “you’ll be able to simply click to connect to [a providers’] website and schedule an appointment to get more information,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds was asked what the state will do to assist seniors facing challenges to scheduling a vaccination.

The governor said county public health agencies would conduct outreach programs, and IDPH was considering using navigators who provide assistance to people registering for health insurance, but no decision had been made yet.

As of 11 a.m. on Friday, information about vaccine providers had not yet been added to IDPH’s COVID-19 page.


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