Iowa health care workers, nursing homes to get 1st vaccines

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Tens of thousands of health care workers, nursing home residents and staff will be the first people in Iowa to get COVID-19 vaccines, likely in the next few weeks, officials said Thursday.

Iowa expects to receive 172,000 doses of vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna over the next month, assuming both products receive emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, Gov. Kim Reynolds said.

Each vaccine requires people to get two doses, three or four weeks apart. The companies say large studies have shown that the vaccines are highly effective at preventing illness, and the FDA is evaluating those claims and their safety before it decides whether to authorize their emergency use.

Iowa will use a portion of its initial allocation for health care workers, storing the vaccines at six sites around the state, Iowa Department of Human Services director Kelly Garcia said. The state will reserve the rest for a federal program that will contract with pharmacies including Walgreens and CVS to vaccinate residents and employees at skilled nursing facilities.

Officials sketched out the distribution plan for the earliest doses as the state on Thursday reported a single-day record number of virus deaths, 70. They said the rising death toll underscored the need to continue to take precautionary measures over the next several months until the vaccines are widely available.

“The weeks and months ahead look very promising but we cannot let down our guard just yet,” said Brooks Jackson, the University of Iowa’s vice president for medical affairs, who urged residents to follow recommendations to cancel travel for the upcoming holidays.

Jackson said he believed the vaccines will be safe and effective, and he noted that he took part in the clinical trial for the Pfizer vaccine.

Iowa’s initial plan follows the recommendations of a federal advisory panel, which said Tuesday that health care workers and nursing home residents should be the first to get vaccinated.

Health care workers could start getting the Pfizer vaccine as early as the week of Dec. 13, but few details were available about which will qualify first. The state said it would not release the names of the health care sites that will store the vaccine, citing security concerns.

Iowa will form an advisory council to make recommendations about which populations should receive priority in the coming weeks and months when the vaccines are in limited supply, Garcia said. The council, whose membership will be announced on Friday, will also make recommendations about how to allocate therapeutics to infected patients.

The goal is to “minimize health inequities based on poverty, geography and other social determinants,” Garcia said. The group will include perspectives from rural and urban populations, hospital administrators, infectious disease specialists, and vulnerable residents such as the disabled and refugees.

Residents and staff at prisons and state-run institutions for the disabled are not included in the first round of vaccinations but will be prioritized ahead of others, she said. Assisted-living homes are also not included in the initial plan, but Garcia said she expected availability to “ramp up quickly” for other populations.

She said the state expects that by mid-2021, vaccines will be available to anyone who wants them. Already, nearly 1,200 providers around the state have signed up to administer the vaccines.

Garcia noted that nursing homes house the most vulnerable residents, and their participation in the vaccination program will be free of charge. Pharmacists will visit the homes to administer vaccines, which will be allocated based on the number of licensed beds.

Long-term care facilities have accounted for more than 43% of the state’s 2,519 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the state’s official data. One-hundred seventy are currently listed in outbreak status and those facilities have collectively recorded more than 5,400 positive cases.

In all, three of every four virus deaths in Iowa have been of indivdiuals over the age of 70.