CORONAVIRUS

Vaccinations at Iowa nursing homes still set for next week

Go. Kim Reynolds says lowered allocations won't delay it

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a COVID-19 news conference, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020 at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moine
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a COVID-19 news conference, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020 at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds announced the launch of a public awareness campaign to encourage more social distancing and hygiene habits. “Government solutions alone can’t stop this virus. It’s up to every single one of us,” Reynolds said. (Olivia Sun/The Des Moines Register via AP)

JOHNSTON — Although Iowa is receiving fewer doses of COVID-19 vaccines than projected, the lower allocation will not alter the state’s schedule for getting the vaccine to residents and staff of long-term care facilities like nursing homes, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday.

The state originally expected to receive a combined 172,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. Late last week, state officials were informed they would instead receive 138,300, a roughly 20 percent reduction.

Other states were similarly affected by what federal officials said was mistaken forecasts that did not account for the full process of vaccine approval, the Washington Post reported.

Despite the reduction, Reynolds said Wednesday during a news conference at Iowa PBS studios that more than 8,400 hospital workers in Iowa already have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and that the state does not have to delay its plan to begin offering doses next week to long-term care residents and staff.

Reynolds said that after acknowledging their error, federal officials adjusted a program that allows pharmacies to help distribute and administer the vaccine so states can begin that program on schedule.

“Even as we were still gathering more information about the situation, our intent was to find a way to continue moving forward as planned with the priority groups, understanding that some changes would likely be necessary,” Reynolds said. “We’ll remain on schedule to start vaccinating long-term care residents and staff the week of Dec. 28, and we’ve also activated our participation in a similar program for residents in assisted living facilities.”

With the recent federal approval and this week’s arrival in Iowa of Moderna’s vaccine, the state will be able to distribute vaccines to rural areas. The Moderna vaccine does not require super-cold storage, as does Pfizer’s, and comes in smaller shipments, making it easier to distribute in smaller numbers.

“Our hope is that by next week that we’ve vaccinated the vast majority of health care providers in Dickinson County and then can move on to phase two,” said Jason Harrington, chief executive officer and president at Lakes Regional Healthcare in Spirit Lake, who spoke during the governor’s news conference.

That second phase of vaccinations is being discussed by a state advisory panel that is making recommendations for the order in which the vaccine should be distributed, Iowa Department of Public Health Interim Director Kelly Garcia said.

Garcia said the panel is working through the order in which Iowans will receive the next round of vaccinations. After hospital workers and long-term care residents and staff have received the vaccine, the next group will include Iowans 75 years and older and workers in essential and high-traffic professions like emergency response personnel and law enforcement, food processing, teachers and school staff.

Garcia said the next batch of doses will not be sufficient to cover all of those groups at once, so the panel must devise a strategy for gradually rolling out the vaccines to those Iowans. The panel is working off recently published general recommendations from the federal government.

“Now (the panel) is thinking about, does it need to be further sub-prioritized, or are there individuals missing in that list that might be Iowa-specific, like meatpacking plants,” Garcia said. “It will take some amount of time, and we have numbers for some of these industries that allow to guide us exactly how long it will take to roll out in those particular industries. And we’re working to gain some more clarity in some other spaces.”

The 25-member expert panel has been meeting in private; state officials say the privacy is needed for panel members to have frank conversations, while open government advocates say a more transparent process would create more public confidence.

Iowa’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases continued to decline for a third consecutive week, after a dangerous surge that through October and November peaked around Thanksgiving. Since then, cases and hospitalizations have dropped precipitously.

Reynolds urged Iowans to remain cautious with another holiday weekend ahead. She called on Iowans to continue to use virus mitigation efforts: socially distance from others, wear face coverings in public, avoid large gatherings, and stay home and away from others when sick.

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“We can’t forget that the virus is still active in our communities,” Reynolds said. “For now, these simple things continue to be our best defense against COVID-19. So as you gather with loved ones in the coming days, please celebrate responsibly. Be mindful of the people that you’re with and do your part so everyone has a happy holiday.”

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