CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa will begin 'patient vaccination' next week

'We've still got a very long road ahead'

Pharmacy technician Suzanne Eagan shakes a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine before drawing a dose for a heal
Pharmacy technician Suzanne Eagan shakes a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine before drawing a dose for a healthcare worker at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — University of Iowa Health Care finally has an answer to the often asked patient question about when they’ll be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

For some qualifying under phase 1B of the state’s vaccine distribution plan, it could be as soon as next week.

“We intend to start the patient vaccination program next week at UI Health Care,” UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran told reporters Tuesday.

“As we begin to vaccinate those in phase 1B, it’s really important to remember that this is an important time for us to celebrate this exciting step for the community,” Gunasekaran said, while also warning, “We’ve still got a very long road ahead.”

» When can you get a vaccine? Check this chart to find out.

The demand for vaccine in this community and across the state is expected to “far exceed the available supply of vaccine right now,” Gunasekaran said.

“So UI Health Care is really quite concerned that many eligible patients — patients who qualify for phase 1B — are going to be disappointed, or even despondent when they find out over the next couple of weeks that getting a vaccine, even though they’re eligible, is not very easy.”

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Promising the slow rollout will accelerate, however, Gunasekaran expressed hope everyone who wants a shot eventually will be able to get one.

“There will be enough vaccine, and we will take care of you over the next several weeks and months,” he said. “We wanted to be sure to reassure all eligible patients across the Corridor that we are confident that the supply of vaccine will increase in February, March and April.”

Iowans who qualify under Iowa’s 1B vaccine program include those 65 or older; people with disabilities living in home settings or with caregivers; correctional facility staff and inmates; congregate living setting staff; preK-12 schoolteachers and staff; first responders, such as firefighters and police; and food, agriculture, distribution and manufacturing workers who work or live in congregate settings.

Beginning Feb. 1, UIHC will take the first step in its community vaccination program by identifying those who want to be vaccinated using an online scheduling system. Existing UIHC patients can express interest using MyChart, and those not already in the system can register using a web portal.

The list will be prioritized using Iowa Department of Public Health guidelines, and it will be used for scheduling “as vaccine becomes available over the next several weeks and months.”

Although the university doesn’t know exactly how many doses of vaccine it will have available for the community next week, Gunasekaran said he expects it will be “in the several hundreds, up to 1,000.”

“That’s what we’re anticipating,” he said. “But we will get final confirmation by the end of this week.”

UIHC already has administered nearly 9,000 first doses to employees — with nearly 5,000 getting two doses. And Gunasekaran said, with the job of vaccinating UIHC workers unfinished, the campus plans to keep vaccine doses reserved for employees separate from those for the community.

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“By delivering more than 8,500 first doses to our employees, we’ve proven that we can safely and effectively vaccinate a large population, and we look forward to offering our experience in supporting a successful patient and community vaccination model,” Gunasekaran said.

UIHC is planning to offer vaccination on its main campus, at clinic sites and possibly through a drive-up model. It’s not offering walk-in vaccination.

“All appointments will be pre-scheduled for us to maintain our high standards of safety, efficiency and convenience and to make sure we don’t waste any precious vaccine doses,” according to UIHC officials.

UIHC officials urged Iowans to wear masks, wash hands and keep distance from others.

Gunasekaran, sharing is reason for optimism, said UIHC already is seeing COVID infection rates decline among workers — tied, in part, to the large number who’ve received at least some level of vaccine protection.

“The vaccine has further driven down our infection rate among health care workers, which has been so needed as we’ve continued to stay busy,” he said. “It’s nice when everybody can come to work.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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