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Q: When can Iowans expect to be eligible for immunization?


A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended states prioritize health care workers and long-term care residents during the initial rollout of the first COVID-19 vaccine to receive emergency use authorization (EUA). It was an emotional and welcome day for Iowa health care providers who were among the first in the nation in mid-December to receive the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Within the first week more than 2.8 million doses were distributed and more than a half-million shots were given. Operation Warp Speed expects an additional 7.9 million vaccines to be distributed this week. The FDA delivered more good news last week when it gave the green light to a second COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna. Of course, the one question foremost on the minds of Americans across the country is: “When is it my turn?”


The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) issued recommendations for rolling out the next phase that would reach roughly 49 million people, about 15 percent of the U.S. population. Individuals who fall into this category include people age 75 years and older and frontline essential workers. The federal advisory panel recommended prioritizing workers employed in sectors essential to the functioning of society who are at substantially higher risk of exposure. That list includes firefighters, police officers, teachers, corrections officers, education staff, daycare workers, food and agricultural workers, U.S. postal service employees, public transit workers and grocery store workers.


The panel also announced its recommendation for the group of individuals in the following phase that would reach 129 million people. For this group, it recommended people between ages 65 and 74; people between ages 16 and 64 who have high-risk underlying conditions; and remaining frontline essential workers, including transportation and logistics workers, food service workers, construction workers, finance workers, IT and communications workers, energy workers, media personnel, legal workers, engineers and wastewater workers. According to the panel, underlying health conditions that make an individual at increased risk for disease to be considered for inclusion in this third phase are obesity, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, heart condition, chronic kidney disease, immunocompromised status from organ transplant, and other personal risk factors for individuals based on consultation with a health care provider. Completion of this phase would reach more than one-third of the population.  


Until supply can meet demand, the CDC is tasked with the difficult decision prioritizing the rollout of the vaccine. Importantly, states and local public health departments will use the federal guidelines in their decision-making process to distribute the vaccine that best meets the needs of their residents. Find details on Iowa’s vaccine distribution plan here. The states are responsible for the final decision for good reason. They are best able to identify the communities and vulnerable populations at highest risk for infection and spread in their respective states. The CDC projects the United States will have enough doses to reach 100 million Americans by February 2021. As we close the chapter on 2020, America is ready to put the coronavirus behind us. Operation Warp Speed will go down in history as one of the most remarkable scientific public-private achievements of the 21st century.


Q: What’s your message to Iowans as the vaccine rolls out across the country?


A: When it’s your turn, roll up your sleeve! The FDA’s EUA indicate the vaccines are clinically safe and very effective. Widespread immunity is our only hope to save lives, restore the economy and get back our way of life. Too many families have lost loved ones. Too many small businesses are hanging on by a thread. Too many workers lost their jobs. Too many families struggled to put food on the table to feed their kids. The Class of 2020 was denied life milestones that generations of Americans have taken for granted. The coronavirus has killed more than 320,000 people in America, disrupted our way of life, caused untold human misery and wreaked havoc on the economy. Older Americans remember the medical miracle when Dr. Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine, saving countless children from death. Generations of families have been spared the tragic loss of life and immeasurable sorrow thanks to childhood immunizations. My message for Iowans is urgent and unequivocal. The only way to turn the page on the coronavirus is to roll up our sleeves and get vaccinated.

Author: Charles Grassley

Chuck Grassley of New Hartford has represented Iowa in the United States Senate since 1980.