Push to Expand Who Can Administer the COVID-19 Vaccine

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DES MOINES, Iowa – The COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues across the country with some high expectations from the new administration. President Biden says 1.5 million doses a day should be achievable within three weeks.

As of Wednesday morning, more than 361,000 COVID-19 vaccines have been sent to Iowa. Nearly 198,000 of those have been administered according to the CDC Covid Data Tracker.

There are questions with the state’s supply in Iowa: Do we have enough vaccines? And do we have enough people to put them in arms?

There are a number of efforts happening at the State Capitol to expand the number of professionals who can administer the COVID-19 vaccine. For example, House Study Bill 71 would allow dentists to do so. 

“We thought that we had a role to play,” William McBride, chair of the Iowa Dental Board, said. “Given that we see our patients many times, very often some patients come in anywhere between two and four times a year for routine cleanings. And we thought that we could provide a service, depending on where we live and you know if there’s access issues, things like that.”

The bill includes four hours of training for dentists and says shots cannot be delegated to a hygienist or assistant. It had its first hearing on Tuesday but has not advanced with lawmakers saying they need more time to make a decision. 

It’s a bill that’s facing some push back. One of its opponents is the Iowa Medical Society.

“We think a lot of these bills are sort of a solution to the problem that doesn’t exist,” Dr. Brian Privett, president of Iowa Medical Society, said. “The problem we’re having with getting the vaccine out to all Iowans is in the supply and the amount of vaccine actually coming into the state. We’re doing pretty well relative to other states on getting the vaccine distributed.”

The Iowa Dental Board has been discussing administering vaccines even before COVID-19, the pandemic made it relevant.

“There’s a claim saying we don’t need more providers, we need more vaccines,” McBride refutes, “well what happens when all of a sudden we have, you know, a new vaccine comes on the market. Production goes up, we have all these vaccines, people who want them, and then we have a shortage of providers.”

Dentists aren’t the only ones looking to help administer vaccines. Currently, the Iowa Podiatric Medical Society is in the process of filing a bill to allow podiatrists (doctors of feet and ankles) to give vaccines.

Mindi Dayton is a doctor of podiatric medicine and said having more providers will be a huge benefit to the public when it comes to reach.

“Podiatric physicians interact in nursing homes, in wound care centers, hospitals, teaching institutions and their own private clinics,” Dr. Dayton explains. “So there’s a lot of places and a lot of ways that we can help increase the access in a safe environment for patients who also may not go out and seek care elsewhere.”

The Iowa Medical Society maintains the state’s problem is with the amount of vaccines coming into the state, not with distribution. Dr. Privett thinks opening up vaccinations to more providers could lead to issues with Iowa’s Immunization Registry Information System, called IRIS.

“If we had another whole profession entering, such as dentists, there would be time needed to train and enroll people into that system. That actually could bog things down,” Dr. Privett said. “And if the information isn’t entered accurately and we’re not getting an accurate count across the state, that could actually harm Iowa’s chances of getting the correct number of more vaccine coming into the state.”

House Study Bill 91 was also discussed on Tuesday, which would let pharmacists give COVID-19 and flu vaccines to anyone above the age of three. It would also allow pharmacists to conduct testing to diagnose the flu or COVID-19. That bill was advanced out of subcommittee.

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