Governor defends late move to set up vaccine registration system

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference at Iowa PBS in Johnston, Iowa. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday defended the state’s delay in setting up a centralized COVID-19 vaccine scheduling system, which is still weeks away.

At the governor’s news conference, a reporter asked why Reynolds’ administration is just now moving to set up a central vaccine scheduling system when then-President Donald Trump had discussed starting vaccinations before the November election.

“We tried to take the infrastructure that we have and make that available,” Reynolds said. “Some of the problem is really a lot of our systems are so antiquated and they’re siloed and they’re not operating at a capacity that we need them to.” 

Reynolds compared the problem to when the state realized there was no central count of intensive care beds day to day, even though each facility had the information. The state then came up with a way to track that. 

Reynolds confirmed the state has chosen Microsoft to help create an online vaccination scheduling system. Work continues to find a vendor to launch a call center that will give people a central place to call, too, she added.

Currently, Iowans may have to search multiple websites to schedule a vaccine appointment, such as county health departments, pharmacies, hospitals and clinics. Reynolds said the state’s coronavirus website also will provide information on where to get a vaccine. Area Agencies on Aging also are helping, she added.

Reynolds noted the White House has promised a 5% increase in vaccine supplies that will arrive as early as Friday. She said the White House this week assured her that general vaccine distributions are based on state populations, and nothing else. She warned getting the vaccines to all Iowans who want one still will be a long process.

“Supply will continue to be a challenge for some time,” Reynolds said, acknowledging Iowans’ frustration at difficulties in scheduling a vaccine appointment. 

Reynolds said a few counties have struggled to keep up with the vaccination rollout, in part due to weather. In some cases, vaccines may be shifted to other counties while the lagging counties ramp up operations, she added. 

The state is looking into using contract nurses and other qualified workers to make sure vaccines are available statewide, Reynolds said. The Iowa National Guard may also help, Reynolds added.

As of Tuesday, Iowa was averaging 15,000 injections a day, Reynolds said. So far, 90% of all vaccines received have been administered in Iowa, the governor said. 

Reynolds also defended her decision to shelve pandemic precautions such as requirements for face coverings and social distancing. She signed an executive order last week that lifted all virus mitigation requirements for businesses such as bars and resturants, while still encouraging Iowans to take precautions.

She noted most Iowans continue to wear masks and many businesses require customers to wear face coverings. Iowa’s numbers of cases, hospitalizations and nursing home outbreaks are falling as a result, she said.

Reynolds welcomed data showing some positive signs. Iowa’s positivity rate for tests statewide fell to 8.6% for the past two weeks, with the past week hitting 6.4%. The number of COVID-19 patients in Iowa hospitals stood at 292, 80% below the high for the pandemic. 

The 67 intensive care patients was 90% lower than the peak, and nursing home outbreaks that peaked at 166 are now at 33, Reynolds said. 

The number of days it takes for the coronavirus case total to double stands at 94, a record length of time, the governor noted. In November, the number of cases were expected to double in 33 days. Of course, there is hope the vaccines will slow the spread further. 

Reynolds said she suspended state mandates because of the improved data, letting Iowans voluntarily protect themselves and others. “We’re continuing our recovery in a strong position. And while the pandemic is not over, Iowans have proven again that we can manage it while living our lives responsibility and normally,” the governor said.