Vaccine rollout accelerates, with chronic-condition Iowans now eligible

Iowa has seen a slight increase in COVID-19 cases. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

With the state now expanding the number of people eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, Iowa is gaining ground in the vaccine rollout.

Beginning Monday, Iowans of any age who have certain chronic conditions were considered eligible for the vaccines. In many counties, the expansion is allowing a much larger group of people to seek appointments this week.

In larger counties, such as Polk, the progress has been slower and work continues on vaccinating the initial group of eligible recipients, which includes teachers, first responders, health care workers and nursing home residents and staff.

The Polk County Health Department said March 5 that it would not offer vaccines to the new group of eligible recipients until at least 70% of those in the initial group had received at least one injection.

As of Monday afternoon, CDC data shows Iowa has administered at least one dose to 647,648 people, a number that is equal to 100% of the prioritized population eligible for the vaccine.

However, that percentage could be misleading, as many Iowans — even those in the health care field — are known to have refused the vaccine or opted for a wait-and-see approach. One potential explanation for the 100% figure: The CDC’s recommendations on prioritizing groups to receive the vaccine are not binding on the states, so people outside those  groups may be receiving the vaccine.

According to the CDC, at least 291,344 Iowans are now reported to have been fully vaccinated.

Over the past week, Iowa has administered an average of 20,300 doses a day, an increase of 39% from the week before, the Washington Post reported. This week’s distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose, should further accelerate vaccinations in Iowa.

The share of Iowans reported to have received both doses of the vaccine has increased significantly since last week, when Iowa was ranked 49th among the states in the percentage of population to have received both doses.

Last week, 6.4% of all Iowans had received two doses of the vaccine. As of Monday afternoon, that had grown to 9.2%, which was a higher percentage than 13 than other states, and just slightly behind the national average of 9.4%.

On Monday, the state reported six additional coronavirus deaths and 161 new infections. Over the past week, there has been an average of 460 new cases each day in Iowa, a decrease of 5% from the average two weeks ago, according to the New York Times database.

To date, there have been at least 339,700 cases of the virus in Iowa, and 5,560 deaths in Iowa since the beginning of the pandemic.

There are 10 current outbreaks at nursing homes, involving 141 cases, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported. That’s one fewer outbreak and 30 fewer inspections than last week.