Providers: Difficult to Verify Iowans with Chronic Diseases for Next Vaccine Phase

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URBANDALE, Iowa — After the Iowa Department of Public Health announced on Thursday that Iowans with chronic illnesses will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, providers are not sure how to verify their disease.

It will be awhile before Iowans — younger than 65 — with chronic conditions will be able to vaccinated due to an overall lag in getting the first tier their second doses. That includes healthcare workers, long-term care facility staff and residents, educators and Iowans 65 and older.

Pharmacist John Forbes, who is also a Democratic state representative, said once pharmacies and clinics are ready to vaccinate this next group, there has been no guidance as to how providers should verify that those seeking a vaccine actually have a chronic disease.

IDPH did not outline a specific group of illnesses, but linked a list from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that includes more than a dozen conditions. It includes everything ranging from cancer and pregnancy, to chronic kidney disease, obesity and smoking.

“A person could walk into the pharmacy with a pack of cigarettes in their hand and say ‘I’m a smoker.’ How do I verify that they do really smoke? I have no way of knowing how to do that,” Forbes said.

He said if its a patient at his Urbandale Medicap pharmacy seeking to get vaccinated, it should be relatively easy to check their medical record to verify whether they have a said chronic disease. However, Forbes said there has not been any guidance for other scenarios.

“Right now it’s just on an honor system and if somebody walks in and we have the vaccine available for that group right now all I can go off of is what the patient tells me,” Forbes said.

He speculated that calling individuals primary care physicians to verify the patients condition could be an option, but one that will only take even more time.

 “We’re trying to focus on getting as many vaccines in peoples’ arms and if we have to take that time to call providers and get verification that’s gonna slow the process down,” Forbes said.

Nola Aigner Davis, a spokesperson for the Polk County Health Department, said it is also waiting for guidance from the state. She said the news from the state Thursday came as a shock.

“The CDC has provided a list of all the underlying health conditions that an individual will have and it is up to the [state] health department, up to the health department of the county, or even the clinic on how they want to go about showing an individual does have a chronic disease,” she said.

Aigner Davis said the main priority right now is ensuring Tier 1 Iowans get their second dose of the vaccine, before moving on to a new group.

“It just doesn’t make sense for us to open it up and have a lot of individuals only having that one dose when we’re really trying to make sure everyone is fully vaccinated,” she said.

Our COVID-19 vaccine team is in constant review of the data on Polk County’s vaccine progress. Our goal is to get to at least 70% of the current tier vaccinated before moving on to the second tier. As of today, 44,281 (66.4% of estimated census population) seniors have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. 

Nola Aigner Davis, Public Health Communications Officer – Polk County Health Department

Aigner Davis said although there is only about 4 percent of the current tier that needs its second dose, she cannot predict how long it will take to complete that process.

“We’re constantly evaluating that data to figure out when we move next. So every week we’ll continue to review the data, and from there we’ll be able to make decisions,” she said. “It’s all about vaccine, we really look at to see how much vaccine we have in order to make decisions.”

She said in terms of verifying who is able to get this next round when they are able to, it is just important to get as many Iowans vaccinated as possible.

“We never want to deter someone who really needs a vaccine, but we really want people to make sure that they are getting vaccinated when they need to get vaccinated. We do not want to take away someone’s vaccine that is in dire need,” Aigner Davis said.

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