Linn County is expected to receive triple its typical weekly COVID-19 vaccine allocation from federal officials beginning next week, allowing for better predictability for vaccine appointments and increasing local public health officials’ confidence the county will see a more consistent rollout of shots.
Starting Feb. 15, Linn County will receive approximately 3,000 doses of the vaccine per week through the end of the month — an increase from the 1,000 per week average previously — Linn County Public Health officials said during a Monday media briefing on the COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
The announcement comes just as Linn County surpasses 300 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic first appeared in Iowa in March.
The new weekly allocation is dependent on local providers’ ability to meet specific metrics from the Iowa Department of Public Health, said Heather Meador, Linn County Public Health’s clinical branch supervisor.
Guidelines state if 80 percent of allocated COVID-19 shots are not administered within one week of delivery, the entire county’s shipment of doses will be reduced or paused, Meador said. Doses are split equally between Iowans aged 65 and older and certain populations under tier one of the state’s vaccine distribution plan, which kicked off Feb. 1.
The county is relying on UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids, Mercy Medical Center, Eastern Iowa Health Center and other independent health care providers to distribute doses to residents. If residents’ primary care provider is affiliated with one of these organizations, they will be contacted to schedule a vaccine appointment.
Local providers are aware of the communications barriers some residents face when it comes to accessing COVID-19 vaccine information online, Meador said, and are working to reach those individuals.
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Individuals with questions about the COVID-19 vaccine distribution can contact the call center Linn County Public Health has established. That call center can be reached at (319) 892-6097 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Linn County Public Health has given no indication it plans to host large-scale vaccine clinics similar to those taking place in other parts of the state, including clinics hosted this past week at the University of Iowa Health Care for Johnson County residents aged 65 and older.
“We are looking to do large clinics here with the health department,” Meador said. “Hopefully we will have all those set up, and we will be working to get some of our day care providers and school systems vaccinated later on this week.”
However, a move by Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday to lift public health restrictions has raised concern that Iowa could see another surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, which in turn could hinder the vaccine rollout process, Linn County Public Health officials warned.
As of Sunday, Iowans no longer are required to wear masks in public or limit gatherings outside their households. Businesses across the state do not have to limit customers inside their facilities to ensure social distancing.
‘We’re not to herd immunity’
Infected individuals are unable to receive a vaccine, which they might not know when scheduling an appointment. That could mean providers may have to scramble to ensure those doses are used up before they expire.
There still are unknowns about the effectiveness of the vaccine against new variants of the novel coronavirus making its way into the United States. But even against the known variant, the vaccine has not been distributed widely enough to offer protection, public health officials say.
“It’s a good thing that we’re at the point where we can get vaccines into arms, but we’re not to herd immunity,” Meador said. “We don’t have enough vaccines into arms yet that it’s going to make a difference. We still have several weeks or months to go before we hit that.”
Despite Reynolds’ decision to end statewide requirements, some municipalities and counties — including Linn County, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City — say they will continue to enforce local mask ordinances.
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Meador also reminded residents that wearing masks, staying socially distant from others and washing hands often is the best public health tools individuals have in preventing the virus from spreading.
“We all have a responsibility to slow the spread of COVID-19,” she said.
More than 348,000 vaccine doses have been administered in Iowa, according to the state coronavirus website. That includes more than 90,500 individuals who have completed their COVID-19 vaccine series.
About 6,000 Linn County residents have completed their vaccine series, or 2.7 percent of the county’s total population. In Johnson County, nearly 9,000 individuals, or 5.85 percent of the population, have completed the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series.
According to analyses of vaccine rollout nationwide, including from the New York Times, Iowa is near the bottom in the rankings of states for its share of the population that has received at least one shot. The New York Times analysis states only about 8 percent of Iowa’s total population has received the first shot and 2.8 percent has received the second dose.
The best performing states, per the New York Times analysis as of Monday, include Alaska with 15 percent of first doses administered and West Virginia with 12 percent of first doses administered.
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