CORONAVIRUS

With a rush for appointments, Linn County begins vaccination for residents 65 and older

Local providers to increase appointments as supply becomes available

Medical assistant Breena Elliott administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Julie Koranda or Marion at UnityPoint Famil
Medical assistant Breena Elliott administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Julie Koranda or Marion at UnityPoint Family Medicine Clinic in Marion on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. Julie and her husband, Ron Koranda, both received their first dose of the vaccine on Tuesday as providers began administering vaccines to residents aged 65 and over this week. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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The first older residents in Linn County received their COVID-19 vaccine this week after shots were made available to individuals aged 65 and older — a step in the vaccine rollout for which many Iowans anxiously had been waiting.

On Monday, local public health officials announced primary care providers at UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids, Mercy Medical Center and independent clinics would schedule appointments with its patients aged 65 and older. Vaccine administration officially began on Tuesday.

But because of the strained vaccine supply nationally, shots are being administered on a very limited basis, meaning many residents across the county still will have to wait before they’re offered that protection against the novel coronavirus.

Linn County Public Health only had 800 doses of the vaccine on hand this week — only “a fraction of our population that’s 65 and older,” said Heather Meador, clinical services supervisor.

Appointments for this week filled within hours.

“Our biggest limitation is the lack of consistent supply of vaccine that is allocated to us, not the capacity of the clinic,” Mercy Medical Center spokesman Mark Wehr said.

For those residents who did receive their first shot this week, it was a welcomed change after the past several months.

Marion resident Julie Koranda, 76, received her first shot Tuesday evening, along with her husband, 77-year-old Ron Koranda, at the UnityPoint Health Clinic location. The couple had been “anxiously waiting for the opportunity.”

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“It’s almost like a relief to know (we’re protected),” Koranda said. “Even though we’ll continue to wear a mask, it’s still a relief to have the first dose and be signed up for the second one.”

Vaccination for nursing homes, health care workers almost complete

State officials had announced earlier this month that Iowa would move to Phase 1B of the vaccine distribution plan by Feb. 1. In addition to Iowans aged 65 and older, other groups that qualify under Phase 1B of the state’s vaccine distribution plan include certain essential workers and other individuals at risk for exposure to or severe illness from the virus.

The first tier of the state’s five-tier prioritization includes first responders, Pre-K-12 school staff, early education workers and child care workers.

Local providers still are finishing up vaccination for Phase 1A — which includes front line health care workers — and now must provide shots for the much larger population under Phase 1B.

Much of the vaccination for staff and residents at long-term care facilities — who fall under Phase 1A — is being coordinated through a federal partnership with major retail pharmacies, CVS and Walgreens.

As of Wednesday, CVS has finished administering the first dose to all its nearly 500 long-term care facilities it partnered with in Iowa, according to a status update on its website.

Of 221 skilled nursing facilities, CVS has administered the second dose to 45 percent.

Walgreens also is close to completing the first round of vaccination for its more than 600 long-term care facilities in the state as of Monday, according to its report. All skilled nursing facilities have been given their first dose.

In addition, 75 percent of the 479 assisted-living and other long-term care facilities assigned to Walgreens have completed the round of first shots.

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Wednesday federal officials will increase each state’s allocation of COVID-19 vaccine by 16 percent, which is an additional 6,000 doses for Iowa. That brings Iowa’s weekly allocation to 25,800 doses a week compared to the current allocation of 19,500 doses.

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Despite the improvement, local officials expect it still will be some time to vaccinate every resident who qualifies and are asking residents for their patience at this time.

As supply arrives, more appointments to come

UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids received 690 doses specifically for residents age 65 and older, which will be distributed by 30 shots a day for the rest of the week, according to spokeswoman Sarah Corizzo.

Roughly 1,400 people have an appointment scheduled through Monday at Mercy Medical, which includes those aged 65 and older as well as certain groups in Phase 1B and “a small number of people still being vaccinated from Phase 1A,” officials said this week.

Both UnityPoint Health and Mercy Medical each have established one clinic in Cedar Rapids to administer vaccines to those older residents. UnityPoint Health providers will notify its patients if they’re eligible to sign up for an appointment, while Mercy Medical is asking qualified residents to sign up for an appointment on its website.

Mercy Medical officials said it is attempting to leave room for individuals without a primary care provider to receive a vaccine, so no call is required to sign up for a shot. Patients will need to prove their eligibility, however.

Those without a primary care provider also can call Linn County Public Health for assistance at (319) 892-6097.

All appointments at UnityPoint Health and Mercy Medical clinics now are booked. More will become available once officials know what their supply vaccines next week will be.

In addition, officials plan to expand vaccine clinic hours and locations once the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available, Corizzo said.

Hospital officials and Linn County Public Health also asks residents not to call its clinics, as they have been inundated with calls.

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Other counties across the state also are broadening vaccine distribution to older Iowans, including Polk County, which began scheduling vaccine appointments for residents 65 and older this past Thursday.

Johnson County Public Health is finalizing plans and will release more information before the end of this week, said Sam Jarvis, community health manager.

University of Iowa Health Care announced it would begin vaccinating patients as soon as next week.

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

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