CORONAVIRUS

Gov. Kim Reynolds: 'Light at end of tunnel' with coronavirus vaccine's pending arrival in Iowa

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference in Johnston, Iowa, on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, to speak about the upcoming
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds holds a news conference in Johnston, Iowa, on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, to speak about the upcoming COVID-19 vaccinations and distribution plan throughout the state. (Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register via AP)

JOHNSTON — The first batches of COVID-19 vaccine will arrive later this month in Iowa, and hospital and long-term care facility staff and residents will receive the first doses, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Thursday.

While Reynolds said this was an encouraging development in the ongoing fight to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has contributed to the deaths of more than 2,500 Iowans and more than 274,000 Americans, she and other state officials and experts urged people to remain vigilant in the coming months.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we need to be patient,” shes said during a news conference Thursday at Iowa PBS studios. “It will take a little more time before the vaccines are widely available. So in the meantime we can’t let up on our efforts to mitigate the virus. We’re too close now to have to go through another surge. So please continue to do your part to prevent that from happening and to protect yourself and others as well.”

Reynolds and Kelly Garcia, director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, gave a rough outline of when the first batches of COVID-19 vaccines will arrive and who will get them.

Between roughly Dec. 13 and the week of Dec. 27, Iowa will receive a total of 172,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna. The vaccines require two doses: Pfizer’s three weeks apart and Moderna’s four weeks apart.

State officials said the 172,000 doses are counted in a way to account for both doses going to one individual. In other words, those initial 172,000 doses will reach 172,000 Iowans. There are more than 2.4 million adult Iowans, according to Census figures.

Those initial doses will be made available to hospital and other health care workers, and workers and residents in long-term care facilities like nursing homes. The prioritization was made on the advice of federal authorities.

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According to Iowa Workforce Development statistics from 2018, approximately 66,980 Iowans work in hospital settings, and an additional 55,385 people work in nursing and residential care settings. According to Kaiser Family Foundation data from 2019, there are about 22,349 Iowans living in certified nursing facilities.

Garcia said as more doses of the vaccines are made available, more segments of Iowa’s population will have access to it. Garcia said she expects that by the middle of next year, any Iowan who wants the vaccine will be able to receive it.

“We’ll position the first distributions in hospitals and we’ll start to vaccinate health care professionals. But our strongest focus will be on long-term care residents and their direct care staff,” Garcia said.

Garcia pledge the state will be transparent regarding when more vaccine becomes available and when more Iowans will become eligible to receive it.

“We want Iowans to know when you and your loved ones can expect access to the vaccine,” Garcia said.

Dr. Brooks Jackson, the University of Iowa’s vice president for medical affairs and dean of the Carver College of Medicine, addressed the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines, which are being produced by private health care companies Pfizer and Moderna.

Jackson said Iowans should feel confident in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines. Jackson said the vaccines are going through rigorous testing, analysis and review, and noted the UI Hospitals and Clinics is one of the study sites for the Pfizer vaccine trial, in which he participated.

“As an investigator of a number of vaccine and drug trials for infectious diseases, I believe Iowans should feel confident that the COVID-19 vaccines that will become available shortly are effective and safe, given the efficacy and safety data we have seen to date,” Jackson said. “I am very excited and feel very confident that (Pfizer’s) will be a very efficacious and safe vaccine, and the Moderna one looks very similar.”

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Jackson, Garcia and Reynolds all urged Iowans to continue practicing safe public health behaviors — like wearing face masks, avoiding gatherings and washing hands — even though vaccine distribution may begin later this month.

“Clearly the news on vaccines gives us hope, and I encourage Iowans to get the vaccine when it becomes available over the next few months. But we’re not there yet, and until then we must continue to do things to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our communities,” Jackson said. “We must continue to take these steps in the coming months even as the vaccine becomes more widely available.”

After a recent surge of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations that was exponentially higher than the previous surge in the summer, cases and hospitalizations have been trending down over the past two weeks.

However, the number of COVID-related deaths continues to climb on the heels of that hospitalization surge: 70 new COVID-19 deaths were confirmed by the state Thursday, the highest daily total of the pandemic yet.

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