116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Corridor hospitals have seen none to very few COVID-19 admissions of vaccinated patients since the shots have become widely available, proving to local health care providers the vaccine is effective in preventing serious illness and death.
But unvaccinated patients still are experiencing severe symptoms from the coronavirus, in some cases even requiring a life-support machine to help them breathe.
While the vaccination rate locally means hospital officials no longer are worried a surge in new cases could overwhelm their health care systems, one hospital official said more infectious virus variants making their way into the state still pose a big threat to the community as a whole.
“The trends we are seeing reinforce the importance of getting the vaccine,” said Dr. Tony Myers, Mercy Medical Center chief medical officer. “Though improved, I am concerned with the sustained low level of community spread of the virus and the anticipated increase with new variants.”
Since vaccines became available to the general population in March, Mercy Medical Center has reported no fully vaccinated individuals have been admitted to the hospital for COVID-19.
UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids has had one vaccinated patient who had underlying health conditions, according to spokeswoman Sarah Corizzo. Beyond that, only individuals who are not immunized have been hospitalized as a result of the virus.
The state’s largest hospital reported a similar trend, officials there say. Most patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in recent weeks were not fully vaccinated.
Between April 1 to June 23, UIHC had more than 200 hospitalized patients with a COVID-19 diagnosis at some time during their stay. Of that, approximately 85 percent had no record of vaccination, according to a rough analysis conducted by UIHC epidemiologists.
About 6 percent had one dose recorded and approximately 8 percent had two doses of the vaccine.
Vaccine distribution also has resulted in a significant drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations in general, local hospital officials report. And as hospitalization rates have declined recently, so has the tally for how many individuals have been placed on ventilators and the number of coronavirus-related deaths locally.
St. Luke’s has seen a steady decline in total monthly COVID-19 patients since January, when the hospital reported 76 total hospitalizations. By May, the total number of patients was 48.
At Mercy Medical, Myers said it’s been some time since the hospital has consistently had 10 or more COVID-19 patients at one time.
Mercy Medical also celebrated a significant milestone this past week, when the hospital had zero patients in the hospital related to the virus.
“That’s the first time since the pandemic began, since we admitted the first COVID-19 patient,” Myers noted.
Earlier this year, health system officials saw a significant difference in infection rates between vaccinated and unvaccinated health care staff as soon as two weeks after the first doses were administered. By the fourth week out, infections reached a near-zero rate of increase among vaccinated staff.
As of this past week, about 51 percent of Linn County’s total population were fully vaccinated, or about 64 percent of residents aged 16 and older.
The majority of the county’s older residents are vaccinated, Myers said, meaning most patients ages have ranged between 30 to 50 years.
Despite their younger age, these patients experience a “very similar severity of illness” when they are admitted to the hospital and still are placed on ventilators as often as older patients, Myers said. However, younger patients are more likely to recover.
“We continue to have deaths, but at much lower numbers,” he said.
While local hospitals no longer appear to be at risk of being overwhelmed, health officials said the virus still poses a serious risk to the community, particularly as vaccine distribution has significantly dropped in recent weeks. Some county public health departments have even said reaching herd immunity — or at least a 70 percent vaccination rate — could be out of reach for their communities.
Roughly 45 percent of Iowa’s population was fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as of this past week.
The Delta variant, which has been identified as a “variant of concern” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was detected by state public health officials in Jefferson County this past month. It’s believed to be the most transmissible variant yet, experts say.
Local officials are concerned this new highly transmissible variant could spread rapidly through the area’s unvaccinated population.
“The number of people who are vaccinated in Linn County will prevent a return to previous levels of illness, but we are far from being rid of COVID-19,” Dr. Dustin Arnold, St. Luke’s chief medical officer, said in a statement.
Local health care officials are continuing to encourage their patients to get the shot and Linn County Public Health also is continuing its outreach efforts to county residents, including offering free Johnson and Johnson vaccinates at the Linn County Fair earlier this weekend.
Individuals can find a COVID-19 vaccine appointment through Mercy Medical Center by visiting mercycare.org/vaccine.
For more information about appointments at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s, go to unitypoint.org/vaccine.
To find other COVID-19 vaccine appointments available locally, or across Iowa, visit the state’s website at vaccinate.iowa.gov.
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