Public health officials ask the public to be patient as they prepare for expanded vaccine eligibility

As local health departments prepare for expanded vaccine eligibility April 5, public health officials warn that the process will take time


Lily Rosen Marvin, News Reporter

As Iowa prepares to potentially open vaccination eligibility to all Iowans 16 and older on April 5, local public health officials caution that supplies are still limited, and people should remain patient as vaccines roll out.

Local health officials juggled an expanded eligibility to nearly 70 percent of Iowa’s population, health officials told The Daily Iowan, which set off a scramble to find vaccine appointments. As another expansion approaches, public health officials are preparing, and cautioning that not every eligible adult can be vaccinated immediately April 5.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced in a news conference March 17 that, if vaccine supply is on track, all Iowans should be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the coming weeks.

This new deadline would precede President Joe Biden’s recent goal to expand eligibility to all Americans by May 1. Iowa is among other states that are expanding eligibility sooner than Biden’s goal. Six states, including Kansas, opened vaccines to all adults today.

“The eligibility has already been dramatically expanded,” said Heather Meador, clinical branch supervisor at Linn County Public Health. “We’re doing tiers one through five under Phase 1B. In addition, we’re vaccinating those that are 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions. We’re thinking that’s about 70 percent of our population. So, once we get to the next stage [of eligibility], it’s just expanding it a little bit more. Right now, it’s not hard to find people that want the vaccine. The hard part is that we don’t have enough vaccines to meet the need.”

Iowa ranks near the middle of states for share of population that is vaccinated in a New York Times analysis, an improvement after January when Iowa hovered near the bottom of percentage of the population with at least one dose, and people who were eligible scrambled to find an appointment without a centralized sign up. As of Sunday, 1,463,632 total vaccine doses have been administered in Iowa. In total, 540,366 people completed a two-dose series and 38,784 people had a single dose vaccine.

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Public health officials from Johnson and Washington Counties said they estimate a similar percentage of their populations have become eligible under the 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions expansion.

“If you think about Iowa, 70 percent of adult Iowans are overweight or obese,” Director of Washington County Public Health Danielle Pettit-Majewski said. “Automatically that would make a large number of people eligible. So, when we heard about the expansion I thought, ‘They’re going to be eligible, but there won’t be enough.’”

Although there’s still a long way to go, Johnson County Community Health Division Manager Sam Jarvis said the county has come a long way since starting the vaccine rollout in mid-December 2020.

Jarvis added that he believes Johnson County will be ready for the April 5 expansion.

“Given the supply increasing, which we believe will be a pretty dramatic increase to meet the demand, folks will be able to walk into their pharmacy to get vaccinated,” Jarvis said.

All three officials said the public should remember that it will take time for all Iowans to receive their vaccine.

“More vaccines are being produced every day. Every week we have vaccines coming into our county,” Meador said. “At some point in time, there will be a vaccine for you. I just can’t tell you what day and what time. We know it’s a broken record and we’ve said it over and over again, but be patient.”