INDEPENDENCE, Iowa (KCRG) – Iowa’s Governor has rescinded COVID-19 allocations for Washington, Chickasaw, Buchanan, Poweshiek, and Hancock Counties, creating uncertainty about planned vaccinations for next week.
Buchanan, Washington and Poweshiek County Health officials said they were among the five counties notified Thursday evening by the Iowa Governor’s Office that they had not met the state’s new 80% usage requirement in order to receive more doses. The Iowa Department of Public Health declined to identify the counties impacted.
State Senator Liz Mathis confirmed to KCRG-TV9 that Washington, Chickasaw, Poweshiek and Hancock Counties are the four other counties not receiving their allocations.
‘They change their rules on us so often, it is very hard to meet their demands’
Buchanan County Public Health Director Tai Burkhart said the county would meet that 80% threshold with clinics it held Thursday night and Friday. It had planned those clinics before the 80% rule was announced. Burkhart said the Iowa Department of Public Health knew about those planned clinics and had said it would have a grace period on the 80% rule this week.
“They understood we had clinics planned prior to these rules being put in place,” said Burkhart. “If we would’ve known from the very beginning how many doses we were going to be allocated on a weekly basis we wouldn’t have had this issue.”
In an emergency call Friday morning, the Governor’s Office said it would “reconsider” rescinding those vaccine doses if the county could hit its 80% threshold by the end of the day Friday. Buchanan County said after Friday it will not have hundreds of doses left over to administer and will have to cancel a clinic of 400 people planned for Tuesday.
“That is eroding their trust in public health and eroding their trust and Iowa Department of Public Health who are not making the decisions, the Governor is not asking for advice from the Public Health professionals,” said Amber Hunt, a board member at Buchanan Public Health.
Buchanan County does not know if or when it will learn whether the state has reversed its decision on how many, if any, doses it will receive next week.
Hunt and Burkhart said the late rule change and notice left Buchanan County no time to adjust its vaccine clinics or plan to meet that 80% threshold.
“They change their rules on us so often, it is very hard to meet their demands,” Hunt said.
The Iowa Department of Public Health said Buchanan County has 700 doses of the vaccine.
‘We were confused’
Washington County Public Health Administrator Danielle Pettit-Majewski said her county wasn’t able to reach the 80% threshold because of a blizzard. The county had scheduled a vaccination clinic but winter weather forced them to reschedule for Thursday, February 11.
On Tuesday, the Iowa Dept. of Public Health said the 80% rule had exceptions.
“If there are circumstances that clearly explain the shortfall and there are clear plans to achieve the 80% administration, the county may proceed with their strategy and will receive their planned allocation,” said Iowa Department of Public Health spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand.
But Pettit-Majewski feels the state isn’t extending that grace to her department. She said she wrongly assumed that the county would face no penalty for rescheduling a clinic for weather reasons.
“We were confused, but, we just, you know, we keep going,” said Pettit-Majewski.
Washington County said it plans on requesting additional nurses to perform clinics.
The Governor’s Office said Washington County has around 1,000 doses.
‘It is a disappointing move’
Poweshiek County is one of the five counties impacted by the decision.
Jennifer Havens, the CEO of UnityPoint Health Grinnell which serves as Poweshiek County Public Health, said she learned of the decision late Thursday night.
“It is a disappointing move,” Havens said. She added the state’s decision will not impact any vaccine appointments because the department has the necessary supply.
Havens added that she is asking the Iowa Department of Public Health to reconsider the decision.
Vaccines to be reallocated to other areas
The Governor’s Office said the doses allocated initially for the five counties will be “sent to other vaccine providers with capacity for higher administration rates.”
The Iowa Department of Public Health said the “pause in allocation will allow each county to focus on administering the several hundred unused doses they have on hand during that time.”
“We feel that disclosing the names of the five counties does not support the intended outcome of the process, which is to give them time they need to shore up their administration process and get back on track to receive new allocations to Iowans,” said Ekstrand.
Ekstrand said the Department of Public Health offered to provide the counties with nursing staff and other resources to assist them with vaccine clinics in their communities so their vaccine allocation can resume.
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