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10 questions about the COVID-19 vaccine in Iowa
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10 questions about the COVID-19 vaccine in Iowa

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DES MOINES — The global COVID-19 pandemic reached Iowa nine months ago.

The disease has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 Iowans — including at least one in each of the state’s 99 counties — and has infected more than a quarter-million.

Businesses have been forced to close — some temporarily, others permanently — workers lost their jobs and schools have tried to educate students virtually.

As the virus continues to surge, help is on the way. Three companies have created vaccines, and the federal government is in the process of approving them for mass distribution.

The unprecedented vaccination effort raises many questions. Here are 10, with answers from state and federal public health experts and the state’s 70-page vaccination strategy plan.

When will the vaccines be available?

Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have developed effective COVID-19 vaccines. On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorization — its first — for the rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, and it will begin arriving in states Monday morning, officials said Saturday. More deliveries are planned each week through December. The first batch of Moderna’s vaccine should be delivered the week of Dec. 20.

State officials expect to receive 172,000 doses of vaccine by the end of the month.

Who gets the vaccines first, and who decides?

Vaccine distribution will be decided by state public health officials using guidance from the federal government. The state has formed an advisory committee of experts to provide additional guidance.

Iowa has determined the first doses will go to hospital and other health care workers, and staff and residents in long-term care facilities like nursing homes. More than 120,000 Iowans work in hospitals and residential care settings, and more than 22,000 individuals live in certified nursing facilities, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Once they have been inoculated, the next round goes to workers who perform essential functions in workplace settings in which it can be difficult to socially distance.

That group will include emergency and law enforcement personnel, food packaging and distribution workers, teachers and school staff, and child care workers. Also at this point, residents of assisted living programs and elder group homes, and adults with medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe COVID-19 illness will get the vaccine.

Eventually the vaccine will become available to the general public for those age 16 and older. Experts say that could take until spring or summer.

Where can I get the vaccine?

For those people who have been prioritized, the vaccine will be available at their workplace.

Some pharmacies also will administer the vaccine to those early populations through a national program. CVS, Walgreens and Community Pharmacy have partnered with the federal government to help distribute the vaccine.

When the vaccine becomes more widely available, the state will work to establish clinics at pharmacies, community clinics, free clinics, nonprofit agencies, schools, community centers and other locationse.

Will I be required to get the vaccine?

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There are no government plans to require vaccinations, although some employers could do so as long as inoculations are work related and appropriate exceptions are made.

How much will it cost?

The federal government is making all taxpayer-funded vaccine doses available for free.

Providers may charge an administrative fee for providing the shot, but that fee can be recouped through insurance or through a federal relief fund, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Is it safe?

The FDA found the vaccine highly protective with no major safety issues.

Is it effective?

Based on their trials while developing the vaccines, Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines are both roughly 95% effective. AstraZeneca says its vaccine, which is in earlier stages of trials, is 70% effective.

How many doses do you need?

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses taken on separate occasions. The Pfizer vaccine must be taken three weeks apart, and the Moderna vaccine four weeks apart. Individuals must take the same company’s vaccine in both doses for it to be effective.

Skipping the second vaccine could render it ineffective, especially if many people do that, experts say. The federal government is paying providers significantly more to provide the second shot as an incentive for providers to ensure patients receive both doses.

Why do I need a vaccination card? How do I get it?

Those who receive the vaccine will be given a vaccination record card when they receive the first dose.

The card will help public health officials determine who has received the shot, and to ensure individuals follow through with the second shot. It will contain only basic information, like name, date of birth, a patient number, and vaccination dates.

Once I get the vaccine, can I stop wearing a mask and social distancing?

Public health experts recommend individuals who receive the vaccine continue to practice mitigation habits like washing hands, staying at least six feet away from others, and wearing a face mask when in public around others.

“Experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change recommendations on steps everyone should take to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19,” the CDC says. “Other factors, including how many people get vaccinated and how the virus is spreading in communities, will also affect this decision.”

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