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Iowa virus vaccinations to move to nursing homes next week

December 22, 2020 GMT

JOHNSTON, Iowa (AP) — The vaccination of Iowa’s nursing home residents is set to begin next week, after a error in the distribution of vaccines threatened to delay the process.

State officials said Tuesday that to be able to begin vaccinating people at long-term care facilities on Dec. 28, as planned, the state had to have at least 50% of the vaccine needed for its nursing home population held in reserve, according to a federal rule. The government, however, eased that regulation since the state was shorted on its initial vaccine shipment.

Iowa initially expected 172,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine in December, but that amount was cut last week by 22% to 138,300.

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Gen. Gustave Perna, the head of logistics for the federal Operation Warp Speed initiative, accepted blame for the error, saying he didn’t realize not all vaccines were ready to ship.

Gov. Kim Reynolds called the mistake a bump in the road and asked Iowans to be patient as officials work through the logistics.

Iowa Department of Public Health interim director Kelly Garcia said at a news conference that despite the error in initial vaccine delivery, arrangements have been made with pharmacy companies to deliver the vaccine to nursing homes next week.

“In a system this large — in a system where humans are taking care of humans — we will inevitably make mistakes. But when we do, we will acknowledge them, correct them and build a path forward, and we are moving forward,” Garcia said.

Iowa received about 26,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine last week. The priority was to first vaccinate frontline health care workers, and 8,400 vaccinations were completed, Reynolds said. Public health officials said more were being scheduled.

Moderna’s vaccine has also begun to arrive in Iowa after it was approved for emergency use by federal regulators on Friday. It is more suited than Pfizer’s vaccine for use in rural areas since it doesn’t require special ultra-cold storage freezers. The Moderna supply is being distributed to hospitals and clinics in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Iowa reported another 64 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, bringing its pandemic death toll to 3,653. Iowa ranked 12th-highest in the nation in per capita COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, with 113 per 100,000 people, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Iowa health officials said 651 people remained hospitalized and 140 were in intensive care units. Although those numbers have dropped in recent weeks, they remain high, as have care center outbreaks, which stood at 133 facilities. Iowa posted 1,276 new virus cases on Tuesday.

Reynolds also said at the news conference that she remains convinced that schools must return to in-person learning.