Linn County Public Health will begin allocating vaccine to residents with underlying medical conditions starting next week

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

Linn County Public Health has made “significant changes” to vaccine allocation and will begin vaccinating residents with underlying medical conditions next week, the department announced on Sunday.

The Iowa Department of Health announced last Thursday that adults under 65 who have a condition the CDC recognizes as putting them at higher risk of developing severe illness due to COVID-19 will become eligible to be vaccinated starting March 8. The CDC has a list of the various conditions that qualify.

Last week’s announcement surprised and frustrated county public health departments. KCRG reported that county health departments received notice eight minutes before the announcement was made.

LCPH’s Clinical Branch Supervisor Heather Meador said during a news conference on Friday that this expansion will put additional strain on the department and vaccine providers, especially since additional vaccine will not be allocated to the county at this time and many people in Phase 1B have not received the vaccine yet.

“We really need to group together, go through all this information, so that we can make this as fair and equitable as we can for our community members,” Meador said, adding that the percentage of Linn County’s population who will be eligible under the new guidelines is going to be “significant.”

Vaccine planning for the week of March 8 was already completed when IDPH made the expanded eligibility announcement, which is why LCPH will begin vaccinating the new population starting the following week.

The county expects to receive 3,540 doses per week through March, according to LCPH. Meador said LCPH does not know when the vaccine allocated to the county will increase.

Beginning Sunday, March 14, 80 percent of the county’s allocated vaccine — 2,832 doses — will be for adults 65 and older, individuals with disabilities and their caretakers, and individuals under 65 who have underlying conditions.

The remaining 20 percent of vaccine — 708 doses — will be for Phase 1A and Phase 1B populations. All Phase 1B tier populations in the county will be eligible for vaccine as of March 14.

The five tiers of Phase 1B of vaccine distribution in Iowa. — Iowa Department of Public Health

LCPH said the department will continue to reserve “a portion” of vaccine for vulnerable populations, including individuals without access to care, with barriers to using technology and multilingual populations.

Pharmacies participating in the federal Retail Pharmacy Program can offer vaccine to all eligible individuals, including those with underlying health conditions, starting March 8. In Linn County, Hy-Vee and Clark’s Pharmacy locations are participating in the program.

These appointments are on a first-come, first-served basis. Vaccine allocation to the participating pharmacies is directed by state and federal authorities, not at the county level.

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“Vaccine continues to be in short supply,” LCPH said in a news release. “Not everyone who is eligible for a vaccine will be able to schedule an appointment at this time. LCPH is working with all Linn County providers to ensure vaccine will eventually be available to everyone who wants it.”

Linn County residents with questions about the vaccine can call the county’s COVID-19 call center at 319-892-6097 or visit the county’s website. Older adults who need help with scheduling an appointment can call 211 or 800-244-7431.