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Iowans 65 or older soon to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine

January 21, 2021 GMT

JOHNSTON, Iowa (AP) — Iowa will expand the groups who can get a coronavirus vaccine to people ages 65 and older, among others, starting next month, even though the federal government hasn’t made good yet on its promises to send the state more doses, officials said Thursday.

Iowa is still in its first phase of its vaccine distribution and reserves shots for health care workers and residents and workers at long-term care facilities.

The next phase will begin the week of Feb. 1 and will expand eligibility to people at least 65, of which there are about 500,000 in Iowa. In addition, eligibility will be expanded to K-12 teachers and school staff, other child care workers, first responders and law enforcement personnel — groups that include about 130,000 people, Gov. Kim Reynolds said.

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Although Iowa plans to begin vaccinating more groups of people, Reynolds complained that the state is 46th out of 50 states in the amount of doses allocated, at about 19,500 doses a week. She said the state expects to receive another 39,000 doses per week beginning Feb. 9, but it’s possible the federal government could change plans and slow Iowa’s vaccination progress.

“While we’re excited to begin vaccinating a broader population of Iowans, we again need to emphasize the demand for vaccine will vastly exceed our supply,” Reynolds said.

The vaccination expansion can’t come soon enough for Iowa, which is struggling to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The state on Thursday reported another 1,708 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 51 more deaths from the disease, pushing its pandemic death toll to 4,445. Over the past 14 days, Iowa has had the second-highest positivity rate of any state, at 33.1%. State health departments calculate positivity rates differently, but for Iowa, The Associated Press calculates the rate by dividing new cases by people tested using data from The COVID Tracking Project.

Reynolds said her staff has contacted President Joe Biden’s administration to see if Iowa could get a larger allocation because it is home to many elderly people and nursing home residents, who are more susceptible to serious complications and death from COVID-19.

Officials in many states have complained about confusing communication from the Trump administration about the amount of available vaccines. Reynolds didn’t blame the former president — a political ally — but she said the federal government controls vaccine distribution and the state has no choice but to rely on Washington’s guidance to make its state vaccination plans.

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Those eligible in February will have access to vaccines at their local public health agencies, clinics, doctor’s offices and pharmacies, Reynolds said.

Hy-Vee grocery stores, which have 140 pharmacy locations in Iowa, and Medicap pharmacies will be private partners to help distribute vaccines, she said.

A third phase of vaccinations includes frontline essential workers and people with disabilities in home settings — groups that include a total of about 600,000 people. The third group will also include about 13,000 staff and residents of group homes and similar settings, government officials and staff at the state Capitol.

A fourth group includes 1,500 health and safety inspectors and the fifth would be about 13,000 staff and incarcerated people in the state prisons.

A state panel appointed by Reynolds meets regularly in private and will determine who will be eligible for vaccines in the future.