Iowa on track to expand vaccine eligibility; minority communities lag in access to shots

By: - March 24, 2021 4:53 pm

Iowa has joined a lawsuit against vaccine mandates for federal employees. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Iowa is still on track to open eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to all adults next month but she acknowledged there is no statewide outreach effort to minority communities and others who face barriers in accessing the vaccine.

Reynolds said Wednesday that about 517,000 Iowans are now fully vaccinated. She said about 35% of all Iowa adults have received one or more doses of a vaccine, making Iowa 16th in the nation, and 82% of Iowans age 65 and older have received at least one dose.

Information from a White House briefing indicates Iowa will see an increase in its vaccine supply next week of 25,000 doses compared to shipments the past two week, for a total of more than 128,000 doses. That will include 18,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which require only one shot per patient. Those will be used for employer vaccination clinics the week of March 29, she said.

COVID-19 aid for housing, utility costs

Renters and homeowners affected by COVID-19 will be able to apply for assistance with rent and mortgage payments through two assistance programs beginning March 29:

The Iowa Rent and Utility Assistance Program will provide eligible COVID-19 impacted renters with rent and/or utility assistance for a total of up to 12 months. The program will be paid for with $195 million of federal COVID-19 assistance approved by Congress late last year.

Eligibility details for the program, including an eligibility precheck, is available at iowahousingrecovery.com and people can apply at the website starting at 2 p.m. March 29.

Renters in Polk County and the city of Des Moines are not eligible for the state program initially, because the local governments have their own program totaling about $14 million in federal dollars. More information on the program that will serve Polk County and City of Des Moines residents is available at impactcap.org.

The Iowa Homeowner Eviction Prevention Program will be reopened to provide eligible COVID-19 impacted homeowners with mortgage assistance for up to four months, with a maximum assistance per household of $3,600. Program eligibility details are available at iowahousingrecovery.com.

The White House expects an even larger allocation of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine the week of April 5, with continued increases after that, Reynolds said.  “With this news, I am pleased to say that we remain on target to open vaccination to all Iowans beginning Monday, April 5th,” Reynolds said.

The demand for the vaccine will continue to exceed the supply, she noted, but more appointments for shots will become available as the number of doses the state receives continues to rise.

However, for minority communities and groups that are economically and socially disadvantaged, the vaccination rates are far lower than the state average, Reynolds said. In Iowa, only 1% of Iowans who have received the vaccine are African American and 1.6% are Hispanic or Latino, based on self-reported information on race and ethnicity.

“Now that the vaccine is available, ensuring equity in its distribution and administration is a national priority,” she said.

She said “targeted outreach to minority and other vulnerable communities will better ensure that all Iowans have the opportunity to be vaccinated.”

Reynolds said the state is working with local communities and organizations to accomplish that outreach. She highlighted a program in which Broadlawns Medical Center, which is Polk County’s public hospital, has partnered with United Way of Central Iowa and the Corinthian Baptist Church in Des Moines. The coalition will host a COVID-19 community vaccination clinic Saturday to serve minority populations in Polk County. All of the clinic’s 250 appointments have been scheduled, Dr. Yogesh Shah, chief medical officer at Broadlawns, said.

The Rev. James Whitmore of Corinthian Baptist Church in Des Moines speaks at Gov. Kim Reynolds’ news conference March 24, 2021 at Iowa PBS. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

The Rev. James Whitmore of Corinthian Baptist said the minority communities face numerous barriers to vaccination ranging from distrust and lack of access to the health care system, language barriers, lack of access to computers and lack of transportation for appointments. “These barriers are real. These barriers are as thick as any wall you can imagine because of the historical data that exist in minority communities relative to experiences with our systems,” he said.

Reynolds called the local effort a “potential model” for statewide implementation. “I hope other faith communities across the state will follow your lead and you may have my word that the state will do our part to help as well,” she said.

Reynolds said the statewide 2-1-1 call center has helped about 4,000 Iowans age 65 and over with making appointments for vaccines. As vaccination of that population nears completion in the coming weeks, the state plans to extend the 2-1-1 service to other eligible Iowans, she said.

However, as Iowa Capital Dispatch reported this week, the state has not developed a statewide program to reach out to homebound Iowans for vaccination.

State corrects data error on vaccine distribution

Reynolds previously had reported that 95% of Iowans 65 and older had received at least one dose, a figure at odds with data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reynolds said an error was discovered in a “worksheet” state staff used for calculations. “Since then, we have adjusted the calculation, which is the reason for the decrease,” Reynolds said.

The state also uses different population data than the CDC, which will cause ongoing differences in age-specific data, she said. The state uses census data, while the CDC uses population estimates, she said.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.

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