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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
With Iowans over age 16 now eligible to get the COVID vaccine — and with tens of thousands of university and college students just weeks from dispersing from their respective campuses — Iowa State University is planning a “large-scale on-campus vaccination clinic” this month.
That clinic on the Ames campus is scheduled to run two weeks, starting April 19, with a goal of vaccinating as many students as possible before the end of the semester May 7.
The University of Iowa, which last week announced the state soon would allocate COVID vaccine to its campus, on Wednesday urged students and employees to complete immunization surveys if they want to be vaccinated.
“We urge you to complete the appropriate immunization survey as soon as you can,” according to a UI communication. “The number of vaccines we can give is dependent on the number of doses we receive from the state and county, so it will take time to get everyone scheduled for vaccination.”
Given the likelihood students have plans to leave their respective college communities after the semester ends, Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen in a campus message said students will be prioritized for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
UI Health Care this week expected to start offering the Johnson & Johnson shot — in addition to the two-dose options from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, UI Hospitals and Clinics CEO Suresh Gunasekaran told The Gazette.
Johnson & Johnson options, he said, will be designated “for patients that are going to have more difficulty coming back in three to four weeks.”
That could include students, with Gunasekaran saying the UI likely will hold some type of mass-vaccination effort for its campus community.
“We are ramping up both faculty, staff, and students hopefully before the semester ends,” he said, noting, “Those plans are still just starting. But we were heartened to hear for the first time that all regent universities will be given some level of priority for vaccine supply.”
‘A different Iowa’
UI Health Care to date is reporting 12,779 of its employees have been fully vaccinated, and 13,516 have received at least one dose — a tally that includes those who’ve had two.
UIHC isn’t requiring its employees get vaccinated — just like it doesn’t require they get flu shots, Gunasekaran said.
“We've always had a high level of compliance without having to make it mandatory,” he said.
Adult inpatients: 13 Tuesday; 460 this calendar year
Pediatric inpatients: 0 Tuesday; 31 this calendar year
Percent positive symptomatic COVID test results: 9% Tuesday; 14% this calendar year
Source: University of Iowa Health Care
Beyond its own staff — including medical residents and traveling nurses — UIHC has been busy vaccinating community members, prioritizing at-risk populations.
A designated vaccination site has been efficient in distributing doses as soon as they arrive, according to Gunasekaran, who said UIHC can administer its weekly allotment in a single day.
“A normal day of vaccinating at the university is between 1,000 and 2, 000 in one day,” he said. “And we're able to do that with no one waiting in line, complete social distancing, and most people get in and out in 20 minutes.”
With demand for vaccine still outpacing supply, UIHC isn’t yet allowing patients to call in and make a vaccine appointment. Rather, it’s using a more randomized system to choose patients who’ve expressed interest in getting a vaccine via MyChart — reaching out to them if their name is chosen.
This week, with so many Iowans newly eligible for vaccine, Gunasekaran said UIHC received an onslaught of inquiries.
“What we're seeing is an uptake among folks that want to get it from us, and so we are going to continue to schedule the way that we do,” he said. “We're now hearing (that) by the end of April, supply will really be in a completely different place.”
That, he said, could put the region in a different place, too.
“We do think that this fall will bring in a fundamentally different Corridor and a different Iowa and a different nation,” Gunasekaran said. “We think there's going to be substantial progress in vaccination.”
That won’t eliminate the risk of COVID.
“But it will certainly change the societal approach to COVID,” he said. “And we think that we can now begin to talk about the future after COVID.”
We are not there yet, though. And Gunasekaran warned of another possible surge in the coming weeks.
“Talking to our public health researchers, we think that there's probably one surge left here in Iowa,” he said, noting vaccination can’t keep up with the virus’ apparent spread regionally.
“We're probably not going to avoid it,” he said. “The good news is, the surge in infections is likely not going to be a peak as high as we saw in the past. It will be an increase. It will increase hospitalizations.”
But, he said, UIHC feels prepared.
“Hopefully it doesn't lead to as much mortality and death as we saw in previous surges,” he said.
Once vaccination allows a return to more “normal” social behavior, Gunasekaran said, UIHC will start easing COVID-compelled restrictions on its campus — including visitor limitations.
“That's what we think is the No. 1 thing that we'd like to work on,” he said. “We know it's really difficult on patients’ families when they're not able to visit like they used to. So that's the first area that we're expanding — expanding our visitor hours and expanding the number of patients who are eligible for visitors.”
Patients and visitors likely will see staff and providers continue to wear masks, Gunasekaran said. And the hospital will continue its use of traveling nurses — as demand for its services remains high and its inpatient census hovers near capacity.
“Because of the pandemic, we've just stayed busy,” he said. “And so agency (nurses have) been really important for us to even be able to grant our staff vacation.”
Last summer — with UIHC facing a dire budgetary deficit, given paused elective procedures, delayed routine care and massive COVID expenses — its staff was forced to choose between taking unpaid time off or giving back vacation hours.
That imposition was part of a larger efficiency program aimed at avoiding layoffs and keeping UIHC in the black. And the program, which excluded faculty and executives, promised a bonus for staff equal to 1 percent of his or her annual base pay if UIHC beats budget and achieves target margins — which it’s doing to date.
“So far, so good,” Gunasekaran said. “If the year ended today, we would do a pretty significant bonus back to the staff.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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