CORONAVIRUS

Officials don't know when Linn County residents can expect COVID vaccine

Limited supply could slow vaccine effort residents 75 and older, essential workers, others next in line

Immunization pharmacist Beth Soenen prepares vaccine doses at Oaknoll Retirement Residence in Iowa City in December. (An
Immunization pharmacist Beth Soenen prepares vaccine doses at Oaknoll Retirement Residence in Iowa City in December. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Limited supplies of vaccines against the novel coronavirus have hampered local efforts to quickly inoculate all front-line health care workers — meaning it could be months before every individual in the first two phases of the vaccine distribution plan receives their doses.

On Tuesday, state public health officials announced the populations that will qualify next for a vaccine, including those aged 75 and older, essential workers and others who are most at risk for exposure to or severe illness from the virus.

State officials say these populations, who fall under Phase 1B of the state’s vaccine distribution plan, should begin receiving vaccines Feb. 1.

However, health care leaders and county public health officials on Wednesday urged Linn County residents to be patient as they await news.

Linn County officials say they still have not received enough doses to complete vaccination of front-line health care workers and others in Phase 1A, citing the current supply of COVID-19 vaccines allocated to local jurisdictions by federal officials.

“Vaccine supplies are arriving in our state and counties very slowly,” Heather Meador, Linn County Public Health clinical services supervisor, said in a news conference. “Linn County Public Health has yet to be allocated enough first doses of COVID-19 vaccine to be able to offer to all Phase 1A populations in Linn County.

“Public health with the state of Iowa have reported that Iowa currently doesn’t have enough to cover the 1A population at this time. Without an increase in vaccine supplies, we will not be able to offer all individuals identified in Phase 1A and 1B immunizations as quickly as anyone would like.”

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Linn County Public Health or local health care providers can’t provide residents with any details as to when they can expect a vaccine, as officials don’t have any information on when and how many shipments of vaccine doses will arrive.

Johnson County Public Health in recent weeks has seen the highest volume of calls from residents since the pandemic began, all from Iowans eager to find out when they can get a vaccine, said Sam Jarvis, community health manager.

But as with its neighbor, Johnson County has not received any indicated from the state when it can expect to inoculate groups within Phase 1B.

“We have no indication of a date,” Jarvis said Monday.

There’s no registry or list that Iowans can put their name on to sign-up for a vaccine. State and local public health officials indicated they will not be taking this approach to vaccine distribution as other states have.

“I wish I could give you a day or a week or a month when a vaccine will be available to you,” Meador said. “However, we don’t have that information.”

In addition, Meador said they can’t provide any indication on where residents can receive a vaccine.

Linn County Public Health will release these details to the public has they become available. Residents are encouraged to sign up for updates through the county website’s Notify Me tool at www.linncounty.org/list.aspx.

Thousands of health care workers still waiting for vaccine

Over the past month, the state has focused its effort on vaccinating Phase 1A populations statewide, which includes front-line health care workers and staff and residents at long-term care facilities.

Kelly Garcia, interim director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, told state lawmakers Tuesday it would require 300,000 to 400,000 doses to complete vaccinations for Phase 1A populations.

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To date, Iowa has allocated 226,000 doses — half of which goes to long-term care facilities and the other half to the health care workforce.

There are approximately 20,000 to 30,000 licensed health care providers and unlicensed health care staff who have direct patient contact in Linn County, according to Meador.

As of Monday, about 7,000 doses have been administered to health care workers in the county. Nearly 1,500 two-dose vaccination series were completed, Meador said.

UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids has vaccinated nearly 2,700 employees as of Tuesday, and has had 91 percent of its workers willing to get the vaccine, spokeswoman Sarah Corizzo said.

About 460 have received their second dose.

Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids has vaccinated more than 1,800 employees as of Wednesday, officials said. Of those, 1,021 have received their second dose.

Hospital officials plan to complete vaccination of its providers and staff in the next two weeks, spokeswoman Karen Vander Sanden said.

Because Linn County has a large population of health care workers, Meador also noted it is possible that other nearby counties could move onto Phase 1B sooner than Linn.

According to the state coronavirus website, more than 10,000 Johnson County residents have received a dose as of Wednesday.

Who falls under Phase 1B?

Linn County Public Health and other local public health agencies across the state are following recommendations issued by the Iowa Infectious Disease Advisory Council, the state group tasked with setting vaccine guidelines.

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The advisory council announced recommendations for Iowa’s latest priority group based on “the current and short-term projections for vaccine allocation in Iowa.”

In addition to those aged 75 and older, groups included in Phase 1B for Iowa include school and child care staff, first responders, correctional facility staff and inmates, those living in congregate settings and disabled Iowans and their caregivers.

Those living in and working in congregate settings that make social distancing impossible — such as workers at food, distribution and manufacturing facilities who also live in bunkroom-style housing — also will be prioritized.

Linn County Public Health will match employers that qualify under this criteria with an entity that can administer vaccines to employees, and it will be up to the employer and the vaccine host to determine the best method for distribution, Meador said.

Local officials still are waiting for guidance from the state on how to further prioritize those groups named in the next phase, which could determine the county-level rollout. Meador said officials do know that at least 50 percent of the allocation needs to be held for those aged 75 and older as well as those of all ages with underlying medical conditions.

About 100 providers in Linn County — including clinics and retail pharmacies — have signed up to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to residents, when supplies do become more widely available.

“Delays in vaccinating our community are due to vaccine supplies, not the willingness or ability of our providers to give vaccines,” Meador said.

Comments: (319) 398-8469; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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