When, where can I get a COVID-19 vaccine in Iowa? And other coronavirus questions answered

The COVID-19 vaccine represents a glimmer of light in a long, twisting and grief-filled tunnel that has been the year of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

But seeing the tunnel’s end and reaching the end are different things. Getting to a point of relative normalcy, and a healthier environment, is still a distance away.

Here’s what you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccination in Iowa.

Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine in Iowa?

Probably not right now.

A limited number of available vaccine doses means Iowa, like most other states in the nation, is prioritizing the first batches of vaccine to go to health care workers, nursing home residents and staff, and a few other groups of high need.

More than 112,000 Iowans have already received at least one dose of the two-dose vaccines, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures. 

When can I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I’m not part of those groups?

That depends.

Iowa is expanding the priority groups on Feb. 1 to include all Iowans age 75 or older —an age demographic most vulnerable to serious COVID-19 illness and death — and people in certain professions. Those eligible professions include:

  • School and day care staff.
  • Police and firefighters.
  • Prison and jail staff and inmates.
  • “Individuals with disabilities living in home settings whom are dependent on attendant care staff” and their caregivers.
  • People living in congregate settings not already covered.
  • Meatpacking plant workers.
  • Health inspectors.
  • Government officials and staff who work at the Iowa Capitol during the legislative session.

All but the health inspectors and government officials and staff were recommended for vaccination by a panel of experts. Kelly Garcia, interim director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, added health inspectors and government officials to the list.

How long will it take to vaccinate the next eligible Iowans? 

State health leaders say it will take at least several weeks to work their way through the hundreds of thousands of Iowans who are older than 74 or are in other categories covered by the second phase of vaccination.

The speed will depend largely on how many vaccine doses federal officials can ship to Iowa, they say. 

When will more people be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine?

The next expansion of who qualifies for the vaccine isn’t likely for a while, according to the Polk County Health Department.

That phase is likely to include:

  • People 65 years and older.
  • Younger people with underlying medical conditions.
  • Other essential workers in fields such as transportation and logistics, food service, law, and communications.

COVID-19 vaccine:Iowa won’t immediately offer COVID-19 shots to all seniors, despite federal recommendation

I qualify. Where can I sign up to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Each of the 99 county public health departments is handling getting the vaccine into people differently.

In Polk County, qualified residents can register for an appointment via a partner pharmacy, such as Hy-Vee or Medicap. The registration process will lay out the next steps, including documentation one should bring, for being vaccinated.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe?

The studies say yes.

There have been very few reported severe allergic reactions or otherwise negative effects associated with the vaccine, even though more than 11 million U.S. residents have received at least one dose of vaccine so far.

The CDC recommends people consult with their doctors if they’ve ever had an allergic reaction to other vaccines or injectable therapies.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines effective?

Yes. Studies show both the Moderna and Pfizer-developed vaccines have a 90-plus percent efficacy rate — after patients receive a second dose of the vaccine. The second dose must come at least a few weeks after the first for each type of vaccine.

While the vaccine protects against COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, it may not stop the spread of the virus itself.

Public health professionals recommend even vaccinated individuals still follow guidelines such as social distancing and wearing a mask when around people outside of their households.

Are there side effects to the COVID-19 vaccines?

Americans will likely experience at least one side effect from the COVID-19 vaccine, but doctors emphasize that the side effects are not just normal but also a sign that the body is reacting properly to the vaccine, and that you should still get vaccinated.

In Moderna’s Phase 3 trials, the company said the most common side effects were fatigue, muscle soreness and aches, joint pain and headache, plus pain, redness or swelling at the injection site. More than half of Moderna’s study participants had side effects from the vaccine in Phase 1 trials

In Pfizer/BioNTech Phase 3 trials, the probability of fatigue or headaches was 3.8% and 2%, respectively.

How many vaccine doses is Iowa receiving?

The CDC reported on Jan. 14 that 268,025 doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines had been delivered to Iowa. It also reported that 112,093 Iowans had received at least one of the two shots they’d need for full protection against the coronavirus. 

The federal agency reported that Iowa was to receive 19,500 doses of Pfizer vaccine the second week of January for first-round shots and the same amount the third week, plus several thousand more doses for second-round shots for Iowans completing their vaccinations. Almost all of those Pfizer shots have been designated for residents and staff of Iowa nursing homes and assisted living facilities, most of whom are being inoculated by teams from CVS and Walgreens pharmacies.

Tracking COVID-19 vaccine distribution by state: How many people in the U.S. have received a shot?

Federal officials reported that Iowa also was to receive 18,650 first-round doses of Moderna vaccine in the second week of January and 19,500 in the third week of the month. Most of those shots are being used for health care workers, and they soon will start to be offered to Iowans 75 or older and other adults in the jobs or categories chosen by the Iowa Department of Public Health. 

Garcia told a state advisory council Thursday that Iowa has been receiving a bit fewer vaccines per capita than some other states. She said her team is checking with federal officials about why that is. 

Garcia said on Thursday that the state doesn’t yet have near enough vaccine to cover the more than 500,000 Iowans who are older than 65. About half of all the vaccine doses Iowa is currently receiving via the federal government are designated for use in nursing homes and assisted living centers.

The rest, about 19,000 doses per week, are mostly being used for Iowa health care workers, thousands of whom are still waiting for their first coronavirus shots.

When might people 65-74 years old get the vaccine?

Federal officials recently pledged to dramatically increase vaccine supplies.

Once that happens, Garcia said Iowa is prepared to quickly expand vaccinations to include people ages 65-74 and younger adults with chronic health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 complications.

What does President-elect Joe Biden say about his vaccination plan? 

President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat who will be sworn in on Jan. 20, has said the vaccine distribution must happen more quickly than it currently is.

He released a plan on Thursday to, “invest $20 billion in a national vaccination program in partnership with states, localities, Tribes and territories. This will include launching community vaccination centers around the country and deploying mobile vaccination units to hard-to-reach areas. The Biden administration will take action to ensure all people in the United States — regardless of their immigration status — can access the vaccine free-of-charge and without cost-sharing.”

More:Biden introduces $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that includes $1,400 stimulus checks

Have more questions about the COVID-19 vaccines?

Click here for more frequently asked questions about coronavirus and the COVID-19 vaccine.

Nick Coltrain is a politics and data reporter for the Register. Reach him at ncoltrain@registermedia.com or at 515-284-8361.

Additional reporting by USA TODAY reporter Adrianna Rodriguez.

— An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed which pharmacies are administering shots for Polk County health care workers. Hy-Vee and Medicap pharmacies are doing so.