UIHC begins COVID-19 vaccination for community members

Health care system hopes to scale up distribution effort

Kristen Van Scoyoc, MSN RN, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Eduardo Malamut of Coralville during a vaccinati
Kristen Van Scoyoc, MSN RN, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Eduardo Malamut of Coralville during a vaccination clinic at the UI Health Support Services Building in Coralville on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. University of Iowa Health Care estimates nearly 1,000 patients, eligible under Phase 1b of the state vaccination plan, received their first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during the clinic. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — University of Iowa Health Care vaccinated nearly 1,000 Johnson County residents aged 65 and older Wednesday, among the first members of the community to receive the COVID-19 shot as the health care system moves its vaccination effort beyond front line health care workers to focus on the broader general public.

The Iowa City-based health system used up all doses it was allocated this week for the large-scale vaccination effort, an indication to UIHC officials that the event Wednesday was a successful test run of mass clinics they hope to establish throughout Johnson County and beyond.

“We really do have the ability to safely deliver this to a broad part of the community in a really fast and effective way,” CEO Suresh Gunasekaran told reporters Wednesday. “Today was really special for a whole lot of patients, and this whole community to start this process.”

The UIHC site did not include first responders, teachers and other essential workers who qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine under the first tier of the state’s Phase 1B distribution plan, which officially began statewide on Monday.

UIHC has identified 16 different sites in Johnson County where they could open other vaccination clinics, Gunasekaran said, but for now officials plan to focus efforts on one or two sites per week.

Long-term, Gunasekaran hopes UIHC may offer vaccine sites in other counties as well.

Johnson County Public Health, who has been planning vaccine distribution with local entities for months, partnered with UIHC with the goal of offering shots to residents as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“At this point in time we just don’t have the supply to meet demand,” said Steven Button, emergency preparedness coordinator at Johnson County Public Health. “So having these high throughput areas, pre-designated makes it a lot easier and a lot more efficient vaccine supply to be used and not to sit on the shelf.”

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In fact, Gunasekaran said the site at UI Health Support Services Building could have vaccinated two or three times more individuals than it did this week.

However, UIHC’s plans to implement these will depend on the allocation of COVID-19 vaccines it receives from federal officials.

The roughly 1,000 individuals who received their first shots this week are just a portion of the thousands in that age bracket who now qualify under Phase 1B of the state’s vaccine guidelines.

“The majority of Johnson County residents that are eligible in phase one we did not get a shot” on Wednesday, Gunasekaran said. “I think it’s really important to emphasize to the community that this is the first day of many days and we here that are working in the vaccination program are very optimistic.”

To those lucky to have an appointment, it was “the greatest sense of relief” after many months of isolation and fear of the virus, said Jane Caswell, 70-year-old Iowa City resident.

“We’ve been waiting for this for so long,” Caswell said.

Johnson County residents, which included many UI Health Care patients, were randomly selected for a dose and notified via phone or via the MyChart electronic medical record system to schedule their appointment several days before.

UIHC had began collecting names of local residents who wanted a COVID-19 vaccine through MyChart and through an online portal on its website.

No adverse reactions

Each hour, dozens filed in and out of the indoor vaccine site located in the UI Health Support Services Building in Coralville, receiving their shots in cubicles that previously housed IT workers for the health care system.

Once they received the shot, patients were given stickers and sent into a waiting room for 15 minutes. There, UI providers scheduled their appointment for the second dose.

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No patient experienced an adverse reaction as a result of the vaccine, Gunasekaran said, but teams were on hand in case any individual needed assistance.

Though Caswell has no plans to stop wearing a mask or otherwise stop public health measures she’s practiced during the pandemic, she said Wednesday marked the beginning of a return to “some kind of normalcy.”

“We haven’t been together as a family since Christmas of 2019, and I really want to see my family,” Caswell said. “I really want to have time with them.

“Pictures and video chats are nice, but it’s not the same when I want to be able to hug somebody. I want to see my friends, I want to have fun. I want to go on vacation again and not worry about it.”

Because the demand is much higher than the current supply of COVID-19 vaccines distributed to local agencies such as UIHC, providers continue to ask for patience among those eager to get some level of protection against the novel coronavirus.

UIHC patients may express their interest in receiving a vaccine through their MyChart account.

Community members who are not UIHC patients also can notify the health care system of their interest by submitting a form on uihc.org/covid-vaccine.

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

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