Iowa Vaccination Software Leaves Demographic Data Gaps

Public health officials in Black Hawk County have been unable to collect important vaccination demographic data because of issues with state-run software. The missing data could identify disparities in vaccine distribution.

a medical professional pulls vaccine into a syringe
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(TNS) — A state-run software issue caused Black Hawk County COVID-19 vaccine providers to miss collection of key demographic data, said Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye, local health department director.

Demographic data would indicate which groups are getting the vaccine, broken down by race, ethnicity, sex, age, geographic location and possibly other factors. The county health department publicly shares this information about COVID-19 infections, but has not yet provided demographic information about vaccinations.

Egbuonye said she is working to locate data for a field labeled "unknown" by the state database. She said she is unsure which ethnic group the field represents. Health care providers, pharmacies and other entities that give COVID-19 vaccines are instructed to enter data into the state software program.

Some fields from the software program are not showing up for providers to fill in, Egbuonye said. She said the system appears to have "two faces" with different pages showing up for different users.

"I'm trying to figure out how to address the 'unknown,'" Egbuonye said. "I'm still behind the scenes looking at that so it would make sense to the community."

She is trying to figure out how to collect missing demographic data. It could include the state getting contact information for patients and calling them back for information, she said.

The statewide system, called the Immunization Registry Information System, is managed by the Iowa Department of Public Health. An IDPH spokesperson did not immediately respond for comment Thursday.

Egbuonye said the Black Hawk County Health Department did not get any training or resources about IRIS from state officials.

"We have not had any conversations that I'm aware of in regards to that," Egbuonye said.

Local health officials were mostly expected to figure it out on their own, she said.

"We know that this system — it hasn't been the best. That's known," Egbuonye said. "So for us, our biggest thing is to be able to share the data that we think that the community should be aware of. So we're going to try to do our best, but we want to make sure that it's something that is meaningful."

Comprehensive demographic data could help the county health department identify potential disparities in vaccine distribution. Data from other states unveiled disproportionate allocations of the vaccine.

Federal and local data show that Black people are disproportionately infected with and dying from COVID-19. The county health department website does not publicly show data about Latino residents, but federal data shows that these residents are similarly affected by COVID-19 more than white residents.

Experts say the effects of systemic racism place Black and Latino people in circumstances that further expose them to COVID-19. Social, economic and environmental factors contribute to the disparities.

Black Hawk County Health Department officials are reviewing the partial demographic data available to them, Egbuonye said. She said she aims to share the data publicly online.

"I do internally look at that number to make sure that also it's pretty proportionate to what our population is, and so as of right now, I can say I'm pretty confident that it is," Egbuonye said.

The health department expects to get 1,950 additional vaccine doses weekly in February. Egbuonye said she expects to begin offering vaccines to K-12 teachers next week. The group falls into the state's next recommended priority group.

All of the county's first responders were vaccinated if they wanted to be. Next in line will be child care workers and early childhood education workers, Egbuonye said.

The state moved to the next recommended priority group in February, but Egbuonye said there were about 300 people in the first priority group who had yet to be vaccinated. She said the health department gave them vaccinations that were allocated last week.

People from the first priority group who were not yet vaccinated can call the health department at (319) 292-2360.

"We are trying our best to move as fast as we can given what we have been allocated," Egbuonye said. "And I know that it's been a hard journey...when their time is up, they're going to be called, and they're going to get their vaccines."

The state allocates vaccines to counties based on how quickly counties administer doses. Egbuonye said Black Hawk County met the state's requirement to use 80% of doses allocated to keep getting full vaccine shipments. She did not provide the specific percentage of doses being used locally.

©2021 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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