As the rate of COVID-19 vaccination slows across the country, President Joe Biden announced a new partnership between the country’s two largest ride-hailing services and the federal government to make it easier for people to reach sites where they can be vaccinated. The partnership was announced Tuesday as part of a set of new initiatives to realize the president’s goal of having at least 70 percent of Americans partially or fully vaccinated by July 4.
According to a fact sheet published by the White House, “Lyft and Uber will promote rides to and from tens of thousands of vaccination sites through their apps. People will be able to simply select a vaccination site near them, follow simple directions to redeem their ride, and then get a ride to take them to and from a nearby vaccination site free of charge.”
The program will begin in the final week of May and run through July 4.
“The nation’s vaccination rate has dramatically slowed in recent weeks,” the Associated Press reported on Tuesday. “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of about 730,000 Americans are getting their first dose of vaccine daily, down from a peak of more than 1.9 million per day a month ago.”
In Iowa, the slowdown in the rate of COVID-19 vaccination has occurred across the state. The Iowa Department of Public Health announced on Friday that 97 of the state’s 99 counties had declined part or all of their allocation of vaccine for this week. Only Emmet and Monona counties requested their full allocation; 57 counties turned down any new dose, while 40 counties requested only part of the shipments IDPH had scheduled for them.
As of noon on Tuesday, IDPH data showed approximately 38 percent of Iowa residents had been fully vaccinated, and another 6.8 percent had received their first dose of the vaccine. There has recently been some concern regarding people skipping the second dose of their vaccination process, both nationwide and in Iowa.
Almost a quarter of people who had received a first dose of vaccine had missed their appointed time for a second dose as of May 2, according to IDPH data, the Gazette reported last week. Of the more than 66,000 who had missed an on-time second dose by that date, 27,015 were between one and seven days past the recommended time.
For the Pfizer vaccine, guidelines call for a second dose after 21 days, and for the Moderna vaccine, 28 days. Although a single dose of either vaccine does provide some protection against COVID-19, public health experts are worried that failure to follow through on a second dose and other forms of vaccine hesitancy will prevent the United States from achieving herd immunity to COVID-19.
During her news conference on May 5, Gov. Kim Reynolds suggested “mixed messaging” was a major driver of the reluctance to be vaccinated.
“I think, honestly, a lot of it is just the mixed messaging that’s happening,” the governor said.
As Kathie Obradovich pointed out in an editorial for Iowa Capital Dispatch on Monday, Reynolds herself has provided much of the mixed messaging surrounding vaccinations.
“Instead of pointing fingers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she should look no farther than the Iowa Statehouse and her own Republican Party,” Obradovich wrote. “And the mirror.”
Although the governor made a point of receiving her COVID-19 vaccination with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine during one of her livestreamed news conferences as a way of encouraging Iowans to get their shots, every time she is asked about vaccination she declines to say that Iowans should choose to be vaccinated. Instead, she has consistently said it is private choice for each person to make and avoids addressing the impact of private choices on public health.
Reynolds has also avoided answering any questions about the partisan nature of vaccine reluctance and refusal. The most recent Iowa Poll on attitudes toward vaccinations found 41 percent of respondents who identified as Republicans said they had no intention of being vaccinated against COVID-19, and among respondents who said they voted for Donald Trump in November, the number increased to 45 percent.
Nationwide polls have found similar numbers of vaccine rejection among Republicans and Trump supporters. Instead of directly engaging with her fellow Trump supporters to address the concerns leading to their vaccine refusal, she recently denounced a nonexistent menace: so-called “vaccine passports.”
Responding to unsubstantiated speculation by right-wing media outlets that the Biden administration was about to create vaccine passports, the White House press secretary said on April 6, “The government is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential. There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”
At a news conference the next day, Reynolds said Iowa “must take a stand as a state against” the nonexistent vaccine passports, and called on the Iowa Legislature to pass a law against them. Reynolds said that if lawmakers did not act, she would ban the imaginary documents by executive action.
The Republican leaders who control the Legislature did act, introducing a bill as the governor demanded, even though the normal period for the introduction of new bills was already over. The bill was fast-tracked and passed by both chambers. It now awaits the governor’s signature.
The bill would do nothing to prevent any future federal mandate. It would strip local governments and state agencies of any ability to require people to provide information regarding a COVID-19 vaccination. It would also punish private businesses that might require people to produce proof of vaccination against the virus. (There is an exemption for healthcare facilities.)
The bill does not apply to requirements to provide proof of any other sort of vaccination. The bill also does not prevent employers from requiring workers be vaccinated.
In addition to its new program providing free Uber and Lyft ride to vaccination sites, the Biden administration unveiled two more programs on Tuesday intended to increase vaccination rates. The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which the administration launched in February to increase the supply of vaccine available to underserved populations, will begin working with high-enrollment community colleges across the country to stage vaccine clinics for students, staff and members of neighboring communities.
The Biden administration also announced that federal funding through FEMA is now available “to state territorial, Tribal, and local governments for community outreach and engagement to connect people to vaccinations, including through engagement of community-based organizations and faith-based organizations.”
Speaking at the White House on Tuesday following a meeting with a bipartisan group of six governors regarding increasing the COVID-19 vaccination rate, Biden said he was confident the new programs would help boost the number of people getting a shot.
“It isn’t Democratic progress and Republican progress. It’s American progress. And now we’ve got to take the next step together,” the president said.
“If we succeed, we’re going to be able to take a serious step toward return to normalcy by Independence Day.”