COVID-19 vaccine: 'We just don't have enough'


“We just don’t have enough,” said Ken Sharp, Division Administrator for the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) during a webinar on the COVID-19 vaccine held Jan. 8.

The 90-minute webinar titled “2019 Coronavirus Pandemic Vaccination for Industry Workers,” served as an informational seminar for business, industry and agriculture professionals.

The theme of the event was that supply of the COVID-19 vaccine in Iowa is low — much too low to meet the demand. “There’s no clear timeline as to when vaccine availability increases,” said Sharp, noting that, for the time being, priority is still being given for health care and essential workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Vaccine doses are allotted to states courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Operation Warp Speed, and are based on population size and target populations within each state. The vaccine is allocated electronically, according to Sharp.

Upon receiving vaccine doses, the IDPH distributes them by county, depending on targeted populations, amount of health care workers, hospitals, etc. Currently, there are 1,654 enrolled providers statewide that can administer the vaccine, and it’s being supplied by the federal government at no cost to Iowa health care providers.

Sharp reminded again that there is a shortage. “Public demand is high,” he said. “Manufacturing has not caught up with demand.”

Vaccines are being administered all around Iowa, including in Muscatine and Cedar counties. There are two manufacturers supplying FDA approved vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna. Both are two-dose shots to the arm, and each require getting both does to be effective. The two differences are the time between doses and the temperatures at which they must be stored before being given.

The Pfizer vaccine must be kept frozen between temperatures of -112 to -76 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the first shot is given, the next is recommended in 21 days.

The Moderna vaccine can be stored between temperatures of -13 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the first shot is given, the next is recommended in 28 days.

Right now, according to Sharp, the Pfizer vaccine is being used in Iowa. The population has been split into three groups, known as Phase 1A, Phase 1B and Phase 1C.

Phase 1A include health care personnel with direct patient contact and those working and living in long-term care facilities — both paid and non-paid staff. Vaccine doses began Dec. 28 and will be continued for 3-4 weeks primarily by CVS, Walgreens and Community Pharmacy.

Phase 1B include frontline essential workers (non-health care), and people 75 years of age and older.

Phase 1C include people age 65-74, people age 16-64 with conditions leaving them at higher risk of having severe COVID-19 symptoms, and essential workers not in the 1A or 1B categories.

Sharp noted that the 1B and 1C essential workers groups have not been finalized, but were expected to be soon. And, due to the shortage of vaccine, only the 1A group is currently receiving the first doses, with 1B “likely several weeks away,” added Sharp. “It will likely take several months to reach all in groups 1B and 1C. We just don’t have enough,” he stressed.

He said county public health offices had been recently flooded with calls from people wondering when they can receive the vaccine. “We just don’t have answers for you,” Sharp said, noting that the state is receiving only 18,000-19,000 vaccine doses per week.

The last 20-30 minutes of the presentation involved a Q&A period. What follows were some of the questions with responses from various IDPH officials:

* What group does teachers and child care workers fall into? 1B

* Could a person take his or her first dose from one company, and the second from another? Yes, but it’s best (and recommended) to take the second dose from the same manufacturer.

* Can pregnant women take the vaccine? Yes

* Will total numbers of vaccinations be provided? Yes, county-wide numbers will be reported on the Iowa coronavirus website soon.

* What group does the jail population fall into? 1B

* Will a person know which vaccine he or she received? Yes, a card will signify the manufacturer.

* Are counties allowed to “stockpile” doses? No

* What about police officers and firefighters? They fall in Phase 1B. EMS workers are in 1A. City employees are 1C.

* What if you’ve already had COVID-19, can you get vaccinated? Yes, a person can get it anytime after recovery, but it’s not needed for at least 90 days after having had the virus.