Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrives in the Corridor

New batch easier to store, making it more accessible to smaller facilities

A dose of the Moderna vaccine against the novel coronavirus that arrived at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids on Tues
A dose of the Moderna vaccine against the novel coronavirus that arrived at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Mercy Medical Center.)

Shipments of the newly approved novel coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna arrived at Corridor hospitals on Tuesday.

Moderna’s vaccine, which received federal emergency use authorization late last week, arrives in Eastern Iowa just one week after the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were shipped nationwide.

The new batch is the first vaccine shipment for many hospitals statewide, including Mercy Hospital in Iowa City, making this week’s arrival a “monumental moment” in the pandemic for these facilities, said hospital spokesman Aaron Scheinblum. Two hundred doses arrived at Mercy Iowa City on Tuesday.

University of Iowa Health Care Chief Pharmacy Officer Mike Brownlee confirmed his campus received 1,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine and would finish using its current allotment of the version developed by Pfizer-BioNTech before tapping the new shipment.

UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital and Mercy Medical Center confirmed each hospital had received 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine and began administering them to front-line health care staff “within hours” of its arrival Tuesday morning.

Iowa is expecting 19,500 Pfizer doses and 53,800 Moderna doses this week and 19,500 Pfizer doses and 19,500 Moderna doses the week after, according to the state public health department. That amounts to 138,300 doses by about the end of the month, about 20 percent fewer than what the state initially said it expected.

The state also received 26,000 doses from Pfizer last week.

Dr. Tony Myers, chief medical officer at Mercy in Cedar Rapids, said his hospital has completed administration of its first Pfizer shipment on Monday, less than one week after receiving it. To date, more than 1,200 Mercy staff and other area medical providers have been vaccinated.

“We’re finding that there are often six or seven doses in each vial, which is more than the five that were expected,” Myers said in a statement. “This allowed us to advance our vaccinations beyond our original estimates.”

St. Luke’s has also opted to use its stock of Pfizer vaccines before distributing the Moderna doses.

According to hospital spokeswoman Sarah Corizzo, 1,022 staff members are scheduled to receive the vaccine, which is more than a 93 percent acceptance rate from front-line health care workers.

UIHC began vaccinating front-line workers with the Pfizer vaccine last week, with more than 1,580 UIHC employees vaccinated to date. As more supplies arrive, the hospital expects to soon begin vaccinating workers prioritized second behind those performing direct patient care on the main campus.

“Based on availability of vaccine, we anticipate starting to vaccinate staff in the second prioritization group within a week,” Brownlee said.

UIHC officials said workers won’t be allowed to choose which vaccine they receive, noting they’re very similar.

The Moderna vaccine also consists of two doses, which should be administered 28 days apart. Health care workers receiving the first dose this week should receive the second doses in late January.

The main difference between the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine is its storage requirements. Unlike Pfizer’s ultracold storage requirements, Moderna’s vaccine can be kept in a normal freezer, thus making it more accessible to more health care facilities such as those based in rural parts of the state.


Mercy Iowa City has held off on receiving any doses of the Pfizer vaccine until a new freezer capable of maintaining unusually low temperatures arrives at the hospital sometime next month. When the freezer does arrive and the hospital begins receiving the Pfizer vaccine, Scheinblum said officials are prepared to use both vaccines for its staff.

Gazette reporter Vanessa Miller contributed to this report.

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