Iowa readies for first wave of Pfizer, Moderna vaccines

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Following the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Emergency Use Authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 11, the first shipments of the vaccine arrived in Iowa during the week of Dec. 13. The state will continue to receive weekly shipments over the coming months.

The Iowa Department of Public Health, following the guidance issued by the Advisory Council on Immunization Practices, has worked alongside local public health departments to allocate the first doses of the vaccine for healthcare workers in facilities who are at highest risk of exposure to the virus.

Iowa has reserved the remaining doses of the Pfizer vaccine for the National Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care, a program established to vaccinate staff and residents of long-term care facilities. This program is scheduled to begin the week of Dec. 28 for Iowa’s 25,500 nursing facility employees and 19,000 residents.

Walgreens, CVS and Community Pharmacy chains will administer the program in Iowa, which means they will schedule and coordinate on-site clinic dates with each of Iowa’s 430 nursing facilities and order all needed supplies, such as syringes, needles and personal protective equipment.

The Iowa Department of Public Health was notified on Dec. 16 that Iowa’s initial allocation of the vaccine could be reduced by as much as 30%. The department will continue to receive updated planning numbers for vaccine allocations — the number of doses the state will receive is subject to change and the provided numbers are for planning purposes only. (As it stands now, Iowa will receive about 65,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine before Dec. 28. Starting Dec. 21, the state will receive shipments of the Moderna vaccine, which received Emergency Use Authorization on Dec. 18. It is estimated that the state will initially receive 73,300 doses of the Moderna vaccine.)

The Iowa Department of Public Health is still planning to initiate the national pharmacy program for long-term care facilities during the week of Dec. 28 as planned but said the original timeline for completion will be impacted.

The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, 21 days apart, before it becomes fully effective. Because of this timeline, the durability of the immunity provided by the vaccine for long-term care residents and staff won’t be known until March at the earliest, said Brent Willett, president and CEO of the Iowa Health Care Association.

“The coming delivery of this vaccine to our long-term care residents and staff is welcome news. This has been a brutal year for our state’s elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions who reside in long-term care settings,” Willett said. “The vaccine is our best defense if our best defense in protecting them and finding our way back to normal… but we are not out of the woods yet.”

The Iowa Health Care Association urges continued caution during the winter holidays to protect long-term care residents and staff. CDC safety guidelines recommend that at-risk individuals, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, avoid in-person gatherings with people outside their household.

Visitation protocols for nursing homes, defined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, do not allow in-person visits when a county’s COVID-19 positivity rate is higher than 10%, except in certain compassionate care scenarios.

Washington County’s current 14-day positivity rate is 13.4% and Johnson County’s is 8%, as of Monday, Dec. 21.

“We know this has been an incredibly difficult year for Iowa families, but there is a light on the horizon. We can reach it if we remain disciplined and diligent. We have come too far and lost too many loved ones to let our guard down now,” said Willett.

“This holiday season, the best thing you can do for your loved ones in long-term care is follow the recommended safety guidelines. This year make a phone call of send a card to share your holiday wishes. If we all do our part this holiday to keep the virus from spreading and give the vaccine time to do its work, we can protect the safety of our Iowa seniors and look forward to brighter days ahead.”

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