The first 1,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine arrive at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics on Dec. 14, 2020. UI Hospitals & Clinics was the first in the state to administer the vaccine. (photo/University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics)

UPDATE March 8, 2021: Linn County Public Health detailed its changes to COVID-19 vaccine allocation and distribution strategies, effective March 14, 2021. Find more from Linn County Public Health, at end.

Jeanne White remembers the smallpox scars that left the mark of the oftentimes deadly disease on her grandfather for much of his life.

“Half of grandpa’s family died of smallpox,” said White, so the Springville woman was more than eager to schedule an appointment when the COVID-19 vaccine became available in Iowa.

Related: Iowa awaits Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Despite numerous attempts through her hospital, where the automated system had her date of birth wrong and repeatedly notified White, 69, that she didn’t qualify, and a chain pharmacy, another online system that claimed she didn’t live in Iowa, White persisted.

Finally, at 2 a.m. two weeks ago, she was able to schedule an appointment through Hy-Vee’s online system.

While relieved to finally get her first shot, White has been trying to help others who haven’t been as lucky, including a 77-year-old friend and her friend’s 83-year-old husband, who don’t use the Internet, which is still the primary way to schedule an appointment.

“The most vulnerable have no way to get to the front of the line,” White said.

Iowans age 65 and older have been eligible for the vaccine since Feb. 1, while the state has continued to expand the categories, including now offering shots for essential workers.

Change could be coming in the near future for those who have fallen through the cracks, as Iowa begins to use “vaccine navigators” for residents age 65 and older who have difficulty using the online scheduling systems.

Despite having vaccine available in the state since mid-December, it was only in late February that Governor Kim Reynolds announced that form of help for seniors.

Iowans age 65 and over who do not have a computer, access to the Internet, smart phones or the needed technological skill can dial 211 beginning Tuesday, March 9, 2021, for assistance in scheduling an appointment.

As of Sunday, March 7, 2021, Iowa had reported 367,027 confirmed cases, with 5,558 Iowans having died of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

The state has administered 864,749 doses of vaccine — with just 263,782 receiving both doses of the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer vaccines — out of more than 1.1 million doses the CDC reported Iowa had received as of March 6.

White is hopeful that her friends and other vulnerable Iowans will receive their shots soon.

One friend was approached in a store by a pharmacist who happened to have a dose that needed to be used.

“It’s so random,” White said. “There’s got to be a better way to do this.”

More: Cedar Rapids pet dog is first non-human COVID-19 case in Iowa

Update from Linn County Public Health:

LINN COUNTY, IA – Linn County Public Health (LCPH) is making changes to COVID-19 vaccine allocation and distribution strategies for county vaccine, effective March 14, 2021. These changes are due to the announcement on March 4 by the Iowa Department of Public Health which expands eligibility criteria for COVID-19 vaccine to individuals 16-64 with underlying health conditions beginning March 8. Under this expanded eligibility criteria, most Iowans will be eligible for vaccine, therefore LCPH has made significant changes in vaccine allocation and distribution plans.

Beginning March 14, vaccine allocated to Linn County providers through LCPH will include individuals 16-64 with underlying conditions. Of the county allocated vaccine, 80% will be assigned to adults 65 and older, individuals with disabilities and their caretakers, and individuals age 16 to 64 with underlying conditions. The remaining 20% of vaccine will be assigned to Phase 1A and Phase 1B Tier 1-5 populations, in priority order. The allocation strategy for vaccine will remain in place as supply increases. The weekly allocation of COVID-19 vaccine to LCPH is anticipated to remain stable with 3,540 doses per week through March. Vaccine is also available to local providers in Linn County through state and federal sources.

Vaccine continues to be in short supply. Not everyone who is eligible for a vaccine will be able to schedule an appointment at this time. LCPH is working with all Linn County providers to ensure vaccine will eventually be available to everyone who wants it.

accine allocated to local vaccine providers from LCPH will be reserved for adults 65 and older and individuals with disabilities and their caretakers until March 14. Individuals with disabilities and their caretakers are eligible in Tier 2 of Phase 1B. Vaccine allocation and distribution is typically finalized a week or more in advance, as shipment details and appointment scheduling is done the week before vaccine arrival. LCPH was not aware of the expanded eligibility changes until they were announced, and vaccine planning for the next week was already completed. Beginning March 14, vaccine providers with county allocated vaccine may begin to offer vaccine to individuals 16 to 64 with underlying conditions.

Local healthcare providers will determine their own process for offering available vaccine to their patients. It is anticipated the majority of patient populations will now be eligible for vaccine under the new criteria. Healthcare providers know their patient populations best, and are the most appropriate entity to prioritize available vaccine within their patient population.

Local pharmacies participating in the Retail Pharmacy Program may offer vaccine to all eligible individuals beginning March 8. These appointments will be on a first come, first serve basis to all eligible populations. Retail Pharmacy programs receive vaccine from the federal government. In Linn County, select Hy-Vee locations and Clark’s Pharmacy are participating pharmacies. Hy-Vee also receives state allocated vaccine. Vaccine administered by these providers are directed by state and federal authorities, and not at the county level. Vaccine supply to these participating pharmacies is increasing, with 27,830 doses per week to the state announced on March 1.

Tiers 1 through 5 

Due to expanded eligibility criteria, most Iowans will now be able to obtain vaccinations without being linked to an employer. Effective March 14, all Phase 1B Tier populations are eligible for county allocated vaccine. LCPH will open up eligibility to all tiers, as it will no longer be possible to track the number of people in each tier who still need vaccine given the likelihood of previously being vaccinated due to meeting the expanded eligibility criteria.

LCPH has deactivated the Linn County COVID-19 Vaccine Business registry.  All businesses that previously completed the business registry will be matched with a vaccine provider. Vaccine will be offered to business registrants by local occupational health providers in order of the Phase 1B Tiers. Businesses that had not previously completed the business registry or have staff that are eligible for vaccine that have not been vaccinated may contact their occupational health provider to request a vaccine appointment.

Vulnerable Populations

LCPH will continue to reserve a proportion of vaccine to offer to vulnerable populations, such as individuals without access to care, those with barriers accessing or using technology, and multilingual populations.

For additional information

  • Visit the LCPH COVID-19 vaccine website at or call the COVID-19 call center at 319-892-6097.
  • Older adults can call 2-1-1 or 800-244-7431 to access a vaccine navigator for help with scheduling an appointment or transportation needs.
  • Older adults may also call their local Area Agency on Aging at 1-866-468-7887 for COVID-19 vaccine questions, transportation and scheduling.