Proposal would allow Iowa dentists to give COVID-19 shots

A patient's chair in a dental office. (Creative Commons photo via Pxhere)

A bill that would authorize dentists to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to their patients is on hold in the Iowa House as a three-member panel that includes two dentists tries to decide whether to move forward.

House Study Bill 71 is a proposal by the state Dental Board that would allow dentists who complete a four-hour training course to administer the COVID-19 vaccines as well as flu vaccines. The legislation would prohibit dentists from delegating the task to dental hygienists.

Supporters of the measure argued that Iowa needs “all hands on deck” in the battle against COVID-19.

“We strongly believe that this bill is a good bill in the sense that it expands the number of people who can be vaccinators in the state of Iowa. We think one of the issues that is going to happen pretty soon is as the supply of vaccine increases, there’s going to be a limit on how many vaccinators that there are,” said Tom Cope, representing the Iowa Dental Hygienist Association. The group is advocating that Iowa also authorize the state’s 2,600 hygienists to administer the vaccines.

Opponents questioned whether dentists are qualified to manage the potential for adverse drug reactions and the needs of patients with pre-existing conditions for whom the vaccine poses a risk.

The Iowa Medical Society would like to authorize dentists to administer flu shots, but questions whether more people are actually needed to administer the scarce supply of COVID-19 vaccine, Dennis Tibben of the group said.

“We’ve got a lot of providers out there, thousands of them across the state, who are waiting in the wings here,  ready to start administering that vaccine once doses become available,” Tibben said.

But Rep. John Forbes, a pharmacist from Urbandale, said he and his staff are being “overrun” with people wanting the vaccine, to the point that he had to open on Sunday for the first time in 40 years. “So there are not enough vaccinators here in the state of Iowa handle the need we are going to have,” he said.

The Iowa Dental Association membership is divided on the issue, Josh Carpenter, governmental affairs director for the group, told the House Human Resource subcommittee on Tuesday.

“Our membership is currently split on the issue of whether they want to administer vaccines,” he said.

Dentists do administer injections and are trained to recognize and treat adverse reactions, Rep. Steven Bradley, a dentist from Cascade, said. Dentists could choose whether to offer vaccinations.

However, Bradley and Rep. Tom Jeneary, a retired dentist from Le Mars, both said they wanted to take more time to consider the legislation before deciding whether to advance it to the full House Human Resources Committee. Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, is also serving on the subcommittee.