Just a couple of weeks ago, Gov. Kim Reynolds believed the need to create an online vaccination scheduling system in the state was so pressing that the Iowa Department of Public Health put out an emergency request for proposals, giving potential vendors just one day to respond with a plan for distribution.
Then, upon choosing Microsoft to execute that plan, Reynolds defended the necessity of establishing such a system so rapidly. “Some of the problem is really a lot of our systems are so antiquated and they’re siloed and they’re not operating at a capacity that we need them to.”
OK, Iowans figured, it’s not ideal to be worrying about this now, but having all of the state’s 99 counties figuring things out on their own isn’t a great system. That some systems are antiquated is no surprise. And hey, at least the pick was Microsoft, not some unknown Utah company recommended by Ashton Kutcher.
That thinking, it turns out, was not the answer.
Last week, Gov. Reynolds scrapped the Microsoft plan. It turns out, taking the 99 county systems and making arrangements with hundreds of pharmacies and health care providers would be a daunting integration process that would likely cause delays. And the last thing Iowa needs is to get further behind on vaccine distribution. OK, so scratch that.
But Iowa still has a dilemma to resolve, and it isn’t likely to be remedied with a high-tech solution.
Find a healthy 70-year-old who has recently received her vaccine and ask her how she got it. There’s a good chance she will tell you she sat glued to her laptop, checking in on websites at all hours of the day and night, hoping to find a pharmacy that got a notification of coming doses and posted a sign-up for appointments.
So for the 65-and-older crowd who aren’t in long-term-care facilities and haven’t heard yet from a health care provider, getting a vaccine appointment has been coming down to: 1) fast internet 2) some degree of technological savvy and 3) a whole lot of luck.
A good portion of those in that age group and circumstance are lacking the first two and not feeling particularly lucky.
That’s understandable. They are likely asking why in mid-February the state is trying to figure out a vaccine distribution plan when the rollout began two months ago and was anticipated long before that.
The good news for Dubuque County residents 65 and older is that on Friday, the county announced a hotline (563-587-4950) for people in that age group who do not have a doctor or primary care provider. Callers leave their information on a recording and will be contacted when a vaccination appointment is available.
It’s still unclear what residents of other neighboring counties in Iowa can do.
At a press conference Wednesday, Reynolds said the state was continuing to look at solutions. “As we, again, kind of research what other states are doing, we’re taking a look at 2-1-1, the call centers that we have, and we’re looking for opportunities that we can enhance that,” Reynolds said.
But so far, the state’s 211 call centers don’t have the capability of serving as a vaccine scheduling service. And then there’s the problem that a decent chunk of the population has no idea what 211 is.
In case you missed 211 Awareness Day on Feb. 11 (2/11), 211 is a free information and referral system linking residents to various service programs. You just call 211 to access it.
For now, Reynolds suggests eligible Iowans having trouble scheduling a vaccine should contact their regional Area Agency on Aging, which helps older Iowans with health, housing and other issues. No doubt those agencies will be hearing from folks. Whether they have the answers people are looking for is another question.
At the beginning of this month, IDPH unveiled on its coronavirus website a dashboard on statewide data for the vaccine distribution and a tool to help find vaccine provider locations. That’s helpful for some. But it still leaves out Iowans who picture the interior of their car when someone says “dashboard.”
Between the isolation and the looming health care threat, this pandemic has been particularly difficult for people over 65. A vaccine is a lifeline amid the gloom. The state must get a handle on how to swiftly get more Iowans — even those without computers — signed up for their turn.