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Iowa dentists, hygienists getting vaccinated as others wait for their turn

Vaccine distribution for dental providers varies around Iowa's 99 counties. Overall, it's up to county health departments to distribute the vaccine.

DES MOINES, Iowa — As the vaccine rolls out in Iowa, health care workers are in what's called "Phase 1a" of the vaccine distribution, meaning they're the ones who will receive it first.

However, not all health care professionals within the first phase are receiving it at the same time. For providers who don't work specifically with known COVID-positive or presumptive-positive patients, such as dentists, it's even varying from county to county.

Dr. Austin Foster, an orthodontist at Willham and Foster Orthodontics in Des Moines, has yet to receive his vaccine. Meanwhile, Foster's fiancée, Dr. Devon Peightal, a resident in general surgery at MercyOne Des Moines, has already had her shot.

"So in Polk County, we've been told that we may be some of the last ones in the State of Iowa, as dentists, to get the vaccine," Foster said. 

Peightal knowingly operates on COVID-19 positive people, but she said she worries her fiancée might treat a patient who is unaware they have the virus. 

"For me it was easy. I showed up at our hospital, I was told to come here at a specific date and time," Peightal said. "And it's really unfortunate that they are, his whole staff, right in the mouth of his patients, being exposed every day to somebody that may be positive."

Where do dental workers fall in line for getting their vaccine? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the White House left states to determine how vaccines are administered, but did recommend health care workers to be "among those offered the first doses." 

The CDC included dentists, hygienists and assistants in their initial recommendation.

RELATED: VERIFY: Why Iowa's vaccine distribution plan differs from other states

The trickiness comes when the rollout varies from county to county. 

"Because in Polk County, getting through Polk Phase 1 will take longer because we have 200 assisted living type facilities and multiple large hospitals," Foster said.

Foster received an email Monday the vaccine will be available to Polk County dentists by next week. Over in Warren County though, dentists already got their shot. 

Dr. Tyler Villiard at Des Moines River Dental Care, along with his staff, were vaccinated last week. That's because Warren County had enough Moderna doses for him and his staff. 

Villiard said dental providers play an important role in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"I would not call myself a frontline worker by any means, but I think the idea was that we wanted to keep seeing emergency patients to help lessen the burden on our hospitals," Villial said. 

As for Dr. Foster, he said he understands vaccine distribution can't happen all at once and knows he's not in a risky demographic. 

However, Foster said he hopes he can get vaccinated sooner rather than later to protect his team.

"Obviously, I want the vaccine, right? But I really want to make sure my staff are taken care of as quickly as they can be," Foster said. 

The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) confirmed dental providers are considered under Phase 1a, which means the first part of Phase 1. 

"Adjustments can be made by IDPH each week to increase or reduce all allocations based on the inventory remaining in the county. This means counties do not receive the same number of vaccines as other counties, and the allocation will fluctuate each week to adjust for vaccine inventory," the IDPH said to Local 5. 

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