Upticks expected in vaccine volumes
Tuesday, February 2, 2021
Local health officials still see long road ahead
The number of COVID-19 vaccines coming to Iowa are expected to increase for a period starting this week, according to Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. The governor said Wednesday the federal allotments for each state were to increase by 16 percent and remain at that volume for at least three weeks. Along with the anticipated increase, the Iowa Department of Public Health recently gave the go-ahead to begin the next phase of the state's vaccinations — Phase 1B — which is divided into five tier groups.
Dickinson County Public Health Director Katy Burke said local health officials expect to receive about 200 doses of COVID-19 vaccine in this week's shipment — similar to previous weeks — but they have been told another 300 doses may arrive before the weekend. Burke said she expects the additional doses will be used the week of Feb. 8.
"Hopefully we will see a consistent increase after that," Burke said. "A 16-percent increase would mean 232 doses per week. It would definitely be a positive impact, but considering there are roughly 5,000 people in Phase 1B, Tier 1, it would take 25 weeks to get everyone vaccinated with 200 doses per week. That timeframe would decrease to 21 weeks with the increase to 232 doses per week. However, we also realize not everyone wants to get the vaccine, so we don’t expect it to take that long to get through Tier 1, regardless of the number of doses we receive."
The two major vaccines being produced by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna must be administered in two-dose regiments several weeks apart. Gov. Reynolds said primary doses of the vaccine have been given in almost all of Iowa's 450-some long-term care facilities, and some have even begun giving the second doses. Vaccinations at the state's care facilities are being administered through partnerships with pharmacies. She said initial numbers showed around 90 percent of care facility residents chose to be vaccinated, while the rate among staff was around 50 percent during the first vaccination phase. The governor said, after the first doses were given, staff statistics jumped by about 30 percent.
IDPH Director Kelly Garcia said during last week's press conference that vaccination is not currently required for employment in long-term care facilities, and she said her department is considering other incentives to increase the vaccination rate in state care facilities.
Reynolds said any unused vaccines from the care facilities are expected to be reallocated for state use, though she said the state is still working out details with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as to how that must be done. The governor said, once the logistics are settled, the unused vaccines will be given to individuals at least 65 years old who weren't covered under the vaccination plan's previous phase. Reynolds confirmed the expected 16-percent uptick in vaccine volume from the federal government is in addition to the anticipated addition of unused doses the state wants to reallocate — a welcome sign, according to Burke.
"This increase gives us more hope that we will put a bigger dent in getting people vaccinated more quickly," Burke said. "We don’t know how many people have been vaccinated at long-term care facilities, but we imagine it was a rather high number. If those vaccines can now be given to us to administer, that would be wonderful. It will definitely help us get through the first tier."
Burke went on to say, to her knowledge, the reallocated shipments would consist of the Pfizer vaccine, which requires ultra-frozen storage — a capability Dickinson County Public Health and Lakes Regional Healthcare already have.
"The Moderna vaccine is shipped in increments of 100, and Pfizer in increments of 975, so if we do start to receive the Pfizer vaccine, that will be a significant shift in getting people vaccinated," Burke said. "However, it’s difficult to project all the way through Phase 1B."
Reynolds said another potential COVID-19 vaccine — one developed by Johnson and Johnson — may receive emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration later this month.
"This is a single dose vaccine, and it will greatly simplify the vaccination process nationwide," Reynolds said.
Information from Johnson and Johnson said the company's vaccine seems to be somewhat less effective than the two-dose versions already being distributed by the other companies, but Burke said public health has been informed Johnson and Johnson is also looking into the effectiveness of a second dose. In addition, the company's information indicated the single-dose vaccine is easier to store. Burke said the new vaccine's approval would potentially allow for even more individuals to be vaccinated than previously anticipated, and she said local health officials are willing to make adjustments as needed.
Local health officials reported Monday that 1,176 individuals in Dickinson County had received their first dose of vaccine — up by 294 from last week's report — and 374 of those had received their second dose — an increase of 161 over last week. Dickinson County's active cases of COVID-19 have also dropped by 21 since the previous report and now sit at about 41 the report said.
No new COVID-19 related deaths were reported locally over the past week, and the county's rolling two-week rate of positive tests decreased by almost 2 percent in that time to 9.1 percent — lower than it had been ahead of a rise in early January.
So far, about 1,910 cases of the respiratory virus have been confirmed in Dickinson County since the first case in March. About 1,831 of those cases are listed as recovered.
State confirms trio of COVID-19 cases to be U.K. variant
The Iowa Department of Public Health on Monday confirmed three cases of a COVID-19 variant in eastern Iowa. The variant, generally referred to as the U.K variant after it was first detected in the United Kingdom, is believed to spread more easily, according to a statement from IDPH, but current COVID-19 vaccines are considered to be effective against it.
The IDPH said two of the three variant cases were detected in Johnson County in an individual age 18-40 and another age 41-60. The third case involved an adult from Bremer County. Health officials have already contacted the trio of variant cases to take necessary steps, including informing people who have potentially been exposed and advising isolation for the three cases. The State Hygienic Lab had been watching for the variants since early December as part of a program with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, according to the IDPH. The state lab recently began it's own sampling of tests, which the state said helped identify the three variants.
The same variant has been detected in 32 states according to numbers from the CDC that were updated Sunday — Iowa's three cases had yet to appear on the report. The U.K. variant has been confirmed as close as Minnesota, which showed 11 cases as of Sunday's report. About 467 cases of the variant have been recorded nationwide, with three cases of another variant confirmed in South Carolina and Maryland and a single case of a third variant reported in Minnesota.
“Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time," Caitlin Pedati, Iowa's state medical director and epidemiologist, said. "Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants emerge and persist. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic. Public health will continue to work with our partners at SHL to monitor these trends, and it is very important that we all keep practicing good public health protective measures."
The IDPH continued to recommend the public wear face coverings in public, practice social distancing with those outside their household, wash their hands frequently, stay home if they feel sick and be tested if they show symptoms of COVID-19 or are exposed to the virus. State officials also recommended the public consider being vaccinated for the virus when the vaccine becomes available to them.