CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa hospitals expects about 1,500 Moderna vaccine doses this week

More than 1,100 UIHC employees have received the Pfizer COVID vaccine

In this Dec. 15, 2020, file photo, a sign for Moderna, Inc. hangs on its headquarters in Cambridge, Mass. (Elise Amendol
In this Dec. 15, 2020, file photo, a sign for Moderna, Inc. hangs on its headquarters in Cambridge, Mass. (Elise Amendola/AP Photo)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics — which last week became the first place in Iowa to start inoculating its workers with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine — expects its first shipment of about 1,500 doses of the Moderna brand of the vaccine this week, possibly Tuesday.

As of Monday, 1,143 front-line UIHC employees working directly with patients — including those with COVID-19 — had received a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, which arrived Dec. 14.

“There have been no severe reactions,” according to UIHC spokeswoman Jennifer Brown, who confirmed Pfizer vaccinations will continue this week — possibly extending beyond the first tier of front line workers to a second-priority group of support staff on the main campus.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 11 approved emergency use of Pfizer’s vaccine, and it granted the same approval of Moderna’s on Friday.

UIHC is receiving its vaccine allocations from Johnson County Public Health for “employees only at this time,” in alignment with guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

UI leaders have told reporters they would like to be involved in vaccinating the broader community but have “not been given doses or clearance to vaccinate anyone other than our health care employees.”

The state Public Health Department last week reported a “revised vaccine allocation” from the CDC. In addition to the 26,000 Pfizer doses last week, 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. 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.

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“We will continue to provide the weekly allocation numbers and will give updates if those change,” according to a public health spokesperson. “We will also be able to provide a total number of individuals who have been vaccinated on a weekly basis.”

The state said Public Health Department Interim Director Kelly Garcia will give an update on Iowa’s vaccine strategy and progress during a governor’s news conference at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

As vaccine supplies are limited right now, UIHC has broken its 18,000-some employees into four groups for vaccine prioritization — starting with 1,500 to 2,000 physicians, midlevel providers, nurses, therapists, housekeepers and others involved in direct patient care.

The second group includes workers supporting patient care on the main campus, and the third covers employees supporting patient care at off-site locations and clinics.

The fourth and final group includes all other UIHC staff — although several top administrators received the vaccine last week to demonstrate ti the public their confidence in its safety.

Even as UIHC expects to soon be providing both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, recipients won’t get to choose between the two, which are similar but have differences.

The Moderna vaccine’s two doses must be administered four weeks apart, while Pfizer’s happen three weeks apart.

Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at 94 degrees below Fahrenheit, while Moderna’s doesn’t require such extreme conditions. It can be shipped at 4 degrees below and stored for 30 days at 36 to 46 degrees.

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But both are messenger RNA vaccines, meaning — essentially — they deliver instructions that bodies use to “manufacture spike proteins and display them to the immune system in a way that looks like an actual infection,” according to a summary from UIHC.

The immune system then “responds and creates antibodies and other immune cells that recognize the spike protein,” according to UIHC, which has been working to dispel myths about the vaccines.

“The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines cannot give you COVID,” according to the university. “These vaccines do not contain the virus.”

Another UIHC “mythbuster” notes messenger RNA vaccines can’t alter a person’s DNA or genetic code.

“They do not insert themselves in the genome, which is made of DNA,” according to UIHC.

Although heath care and public health experts have warned about holiday gatherings and a possible spike in COVID1-19 cases, Iowa has seen a notable decline in new daily cases recently — reporting 601 on Monday, compared with daily additions in the 4,000s and even 5,000s in November.

UIHC, which at one point last month had about 100 COVID-19 inpatients, now reports 28.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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