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‘An Error on Our Part’: Polk Co. Health Director Admits Overestimating Vaccine Supply

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Polk County Health Director Helen Eddy told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday morning that she overestimated the future weekly supplies of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and borrowed against that expected increase, which didn’t materialize. That means that second doses for 14,000 residents were impacted and she said that it will take until April to catch up.

“Vaccine, for planning purposes, has been uneven and a bit of mystery,” Eddy said as she disclosed for the first time publicly the county’s current situation. “In full disclosure, we anticipated and planned in there being enough doses and continued increasing doses of Moderna to backfill this. So we got ahead. That did not materialize.”

The Iowa Department of Public Health reports that Polk County has vaccinated nearly 43,000 people so far. About half of those people have received both doses.

A county spokesperson confirmed that the department had used doses of the Moderna vaccine–that were originally set aside for second doses for people–as first doses for other people instead. The director’s assumption was that the county’s supply of Moderna would increase enough, so that there would be no disruption in vaccinations. But future supply did not increase enough to allow her envisioned scenario to play out.

“So we got ahead,” Eddy acknowledged to supervisors, “That (the increased supply) did not materialize.”

Health officials across the state have complained of uncertain vaccine supplies as the weekly allotment from the federal government can vary and also does not provide long-term certainty, which can make vaccination planning challenging. Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly echoed that frustration during the meeting. “I don’t get why we’re left behind on our planning and how much we’re getting. I just don’t understand,” she said of the vaccine supply through the federal government that remains far less than the demand for it.

Eddy said that the county will use remaining Moderna supply to focus on second doses for people. That means pausing efforts to vaccinate residents with the Moderna vaccine for their first dose. I

She said that the county will concentrate its Pfizer vaccine supply on those residents 65 years and older who used their call center to help those without computer access. That age group is one of the highest health risk segments of the population.

“A thousand doses of vaccine to those seniors that we are serving,” Eddy explained.

She said that vaccinations for those seniors would take place the week of March 3rd. Eddy also estimated that it will take several weeks to make up for the 14,000 Moderna vaccine doses that she overestimated. “(We) should catch up April fifth through twelfth,” Eddy told supervisors.

The Centers for Disease Control originally recommended that people receive their second dose of Moderna vaccine 28 days after the first dose. The C.D.C. recently updated that guidance and said that people should try to get that second dose within 42 days of receiving the first dose.

WHO 13 asked Nola Aigner Davis, the county public health spokesperson, if the director expected that people could receive their second dose of the Moderna vaccine within the 42 days. Aigner Davis emailed this response:

“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the second dose should be administered as close to the recommended interval as possible. However, if it is not feasible to adhere to the recommended interval and a delay in vaccination is unavoidable, the second dose of Moderna vaccines may be administered up to 6 weeks (42 days) after the first dose. If the second dose is administered within the 42-day interval, there is no need to restart the series.

We remain committed to CDC guidance to complete the two-dose series and are working as hard as we can to do that as quickly as possible.  Reassuringly, all of the evidence we have currently supports that even if the second dose is delayed, there is no need to restart the series.”

Nola Aigner Davis, Polk County Health Department

The shortfall impacts the county health department’s vaccination efforts but other providers in the county “will still schedule vaccines for individuals in tier 1,” Aigner Davis said.

Educators, child care providers and first responders are among those groups that the state has included in the first tier, which determines priority for vaccinations.

This story will be updated throughout the day.

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