Iowa may soon start vaccinating all older adults; anti-vaxxers protest without masks at State Capitol

Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. — Arne Müseler

A total of 91,501 Iowans, including 9,411 residents of Johnson County and 6,797 residents of Linn County, had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

The department has said it will now publish updates on the number of people vaccinated, at both the state- and county-level, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, until it has a dashboard on that will provide daily updates. No date has been announced for the introduction of the dashboard.

IDPH said that of the 91,501 Iowans who have been vaccinated, 5,417, or around 6 percent, have received the necessary second dose of the vaccine. In Johnson County, 844 residents have received a second dose, as have 1,067 Linn County residents.

The Pfizer vaccines requires two doses 21 days apart for maximum effectiveness, and FDA guidelines for the Moderna vaccines call for two doses 28 days apart.

Iowa is still in Phase 1A of its announced vaccination plan, meaning vaccines are supposed to be reserved for frontline medical workers and residents of nursing homes and their immediate caregivers.

In an update issued by Johnson County Public Health on Friday, Community Health Manager Sam Jarvis said, “COVID-19 vaccines are arriving slowly into our state and community at this time with larger quantities more likely to be available in late spring. This means we are expecting to be in Phase 1A throughout the spring. So those who are anticipated to be included in 1B, the next phase (older adults/essential workers), will not start to be vaccinated for several more months.”

Speaking to reporters last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds criticized the speed at which vaccinations are being administered, Radio Iowa reported.

Under a federal agreement, Walgreens, CVS, and a regional chain called Community Pharmacy were hired to get the shots deployed to Iowa nursing homes. Some nursing home managers say they cannot find out when shots will be administered in their facilities.

“This is a problem that’s happening in states all across the country,” Reynolds said during a forum yesterday sponsored by the Iowa Capitol Press Association. “None of us are happy with the way that this is being executed.”

Reynolds and other governors spoke with executives from the two national pharmacy chains on Thursday. Reynolds told reporters if CVS and Walgreens can’t fulfill the contract on a timely basis, local pharmacies should get the business.

The use of the limited vaccine supply to vaccinate healthcare workers, nursing home patients and caregivers is what the CDC has recommended, but on Tuesday, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a major change to the previous recommendations.

HHS Sec. Alex Azar said on Tuesday that states should extend their vaccination programs to immediately cover everyone 65 and older, as well as anyone with serious underlying health conditions, such as diabetes and cancer. He also said the federal government will no longer hold doses of the vaccine in reserve to guarantee second doses are available and will instead release all available doses.

The New York Times said the change in guidelines was “an attempt to accelerate lagging distribution as Covid-19 deaths have soared to their highest levels since the pandemic began.”

“More than 375,000 people have died from Covid-19 in the United States since the start of the pandemic,” the Times reported. “In recent days, the number of daily deaths in the country has topped 4,000.”

On Tuesday, IDPH reported another 83 deaths in Iowa from COVID-19, bringing the state’s death toll to 4,222. The department also reported another 1,199 Iowans had tested positive for the virus between 10 a.m. on Monday and 10 a.m. on Tuesday. Since the first cases were confirmed in the state on March 8, a total of 298,065 Iowans have tested positive.

Following the new HHS recommendation, IDPH said in a statement that after it “has reasonable confidence that supply meets demand of this broader eligibility criteria, we will activate the broader distribution criteria.”

In the statement, the department said it anticipated moving to Phase 1B of its own vaccination plan no later than Feb. 1. That stage of the vaccination plan, which was decided on before the HHS announcement, calls for the vaccination of people 75 and older, as well as “Iowans who are most vulnerable to exposure to COVID-19 or high-risk for illness for as a result of a COVID-19 infection.”

“Some examples include individuals with disabilities living in home settings, correction facilities, other congregate settings and meatpacking workers,” IDPH said.

Health and safety inspectors will also be prioritized for vaccination in Phase 1B, as will school staff, childcare workers, first responders and “government officials, including staff, to ensure continuity of government, engaged in state business at the Iowa Capitol during the legislative session,” according to IDPH.

Gov. Reynolds has said she would encourage Iowans to get vaccinated. During her Dec. 22 news conference, Reynolds said the state would launch a public service announcement campaign to help persuade people to be vaccinated. The governor, however, decided not to take advantage of an opportunity on Monday to promote vaccinations.

As the new session of the Iowa Legislature began on Monday morning, a crowd of hundreds of protesters gathered in the State Capitol Building to denounce the state’s limited mask mandate and oppose COVID-19 vaccinations.

The protest was organized by a group called Informed Choice Iowa, which says it “strongly oppose[s] health mandates.”

“Shanda Burke, with Informed Choice Iowa, said COVID-19 vaccinations take away freedom because many employers will require them for workers,” KCCI reported.

“Masks, that’s a violation of personal freedoms and liberties. It’s a health concern for many, and then the vaccine,” Burke said. “Now we are seeing that being forced on a lot of people, health care workers, stuff like that. It all should be a personal choice.”

The governor did not make an appearance on Monday to attempt to convince the protesters of the importance of vaccinations or wearing a mask.

The protesters did not mask or socially distance, and despite the limited mask mandate in the governor’s emergency health proclamation, the Republican leaders of the Iowa Legislature have decided that visitors to Iowa State Capitol are not required to wear masks.

Members of the legislature will not be required to wear masks either. Speaker of the House Pat Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver have said they would encourage members to wear masks if they will be in close proximity, but it would be impossible to mandate wearing masks.

Both the Iowa House and Senate will continue to enforce their dress codes, though. Those codes, for example, require men, both legislators and members of the press, in the Iowa House chamber to wear neckties. In the Senate chamber, men must ties and jackets.

At least one member of the legislature was present during the protest on Monday. Rep. Steve Holt told the Daily Iowan he supported the protesters’ anti-mask stance.

“I do not support mask mandates,” Holt said. “I think if government thinks masks should be worn, they should provide the medical rationale, they should highly recommend it. And then, they should allow free men and women that have a bill of rights to make those decisions for themselves.”

Holt, a Republican from Dennison, is chair of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee.

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