CORONAVIRUS

COVID-19 vaccines off to uncertain start in Iowa facilities

One pharmacy completes first round, but other delays reported

Maintenance worker Joe Bromell is prepared for to receive a vaccine last Tuesday from pharmacist Kathryn Smart at Oaknol
Maintenance worker Joe Bromell is prepared for to receive a vaccine last Tuesday from pharmacist Kathryn Smart at Oaknoll Retirement Residence in Iowa City. Oaknoll was one of the first long-term care facilities in Iowa to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — The owner of one of the three pharmacies participating in a federal program to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities across Iowa said his company completed its distribution of over 8,500 doses this week.

Kyle Janssen, owner of and a pharmacist with Community Pharmacy, said during an interview that the company distributed its allotment of the vaccine to residents and staff in more than 80 long-term care facilities in the state in three days.

Janssen said the company expects next week to at least double that dosage delivery to over 70 additional assisted living facilities in Iowa.

“We know these buildings have been going through hell,” Janssen said. “We’re just trying to do the right thing. These people have been living confined in their rooms since March.”

Janssen said Community Pharmacy has dubbed its vaccine distribution “Project Hug.”

“We just want to see these people in long-term care facilities hug their kids and hug their grandchildren again. It’s something they haven’t been able to do for a long time. That’s something that’s been motivating us,” Janssen said. “We’re honored that we can be a part of the solution, and we want to live up to our end of the deal and get done as fast as we can.”

Walgreens and CVS are the other two companies in the program.

A CVS spokeswoman said the company expects to reach nearly 50,000 individuals in 486 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities in Iowa, and that its program — including follow-up visits for the second dose of the vaccines, which are required three to four weeks after the first shot — should be completed in roughly three months.

A Walgreens spokeswoman said the company is not providing state-specific data.

“Walgreens is very proud to be a part of this historic milestone to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines to our most vulnerable populations in Iowa and across the country,” Walgreens president John Standley said in an email. “With more than a decade of experience administering various vaccines, we have the deep expertise to support this unprecedented effort to allow our nation to emerge from this pandemic.”

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An unknown number of facilities expecting the first doses of the vaccine earlier this week have had their clinics rescheduled by retail pharmacies, said Brent Willett, president and chief executive officer of the Iowa Health Care Association, which represents the state’s nursing homes, skilled nursing centers, assisted living and independent living facilities.

Willett said the delay was not caused by the 20 percent reduction in the state’s first shipments of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which dropped anticipated total doses from 172,000 to 138,300.

“I do not think it has anything to do with vaccine supply,” he said. “The state kept the necessary supply for the long-term care vaccine program whole once that (reduction) occurred.”

Instead, the delay originated from the retail pharmacies, though Willett couldn’t offer insight for the reason.

A report in the Iowa Capital Dispatch said that CVS and Walgreens were aggressively recruiting staff to administer the vaccines in Iowa’s long-term care facilities, causing some local pharmacists to question if these companies have the capabilities to operate the large program.

Willett implored CVS and Walgreens to get in touch with nursing homes and other senior living facilities still waiting for their vaccines, and asked facility administrators to be patient.

“They are understandably anxious, but this is also a reflection on the fact that we have a large number of facilities these pharmacies are cycling through. Bottlenecking is inevitable,” Willett said.

Neither Walgreens nor CVS responded to questions about reported delays in the rollout.

The state Public Health Department said that as of Monday, more than 25,000 doses had been administered in Iowa. But most of that predates the rollout in long-term care facilities, which began Monday.

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The state plans to report the number of Iowans who have received the vaccine on coronavirus.iowa.gov sometime next week.

Michaela Ramm of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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