Gov. Reynolds assesses her pandemic performance ahead of Iowa’s COVID anniversary

Gov. Kim Reynolds received a COVID-19 vaccine on camera during her March 3 press conference. — Iowa PBS

Gov. Kim Reynolds began her news conference on Wednesday by noting that “almost 23 percent of eligible Iowans age 18 and up, and almost 70 percent — 69.5 — of older Iowans, age 65 and above, have received at least their first dose” of COVID-19 vaccine.

The governor said she expects the rate of vaccination in the state to increase as the amount of vaccine shipped to the state by the federal government continues to increase.

“However, we are working to resolve a lag in the timely administration of second doses within the recommended 21-day window for Pfizer vaccines and the 28-day window for Moderna,” Reynolds said.

Approximately 12 percent of the more than 344,500 people who had received their first dose as of Feb. 27 had not received their second within the recommended period, according to state records. The governor said the Iowa Department of Public Health had determined that “more than 72 percent of the overdue booster doses are among pharmacy providers.”

“Earlier this week, the Department of Public Health contacted participating pharmacists to identify what may be causing the issue and how we can work together to resolve it,” Reynolds continued. “They determined that a file reporting second doses administered by the long-term pharmacy partners failed to transfer and therefore the doses are not yet accounted for in the reporting system. The Department of Public Health confirmed that this should account for the bulk of the second dose presumed to be overdue.”

“So the issue should be resolved and doses reported soon.”

The governor did not get more specific than “bulk” for the number of second vaccinations that have gone unreported because the error, or “soon” for when accurate information will be available.

This, of course, is not the first time IDPH has significant data reporting errors during the pandemic. In August, the lead epidemiologist in the IDPH Surveillance Unit confirmed to Dana Jones, an Iowa City nurse practitioner, the department had been knowingly misreporting COVID-19 test results for several weeks, after Jones emailed IDPH to ask about discrepancies she discovered in her own independent tracking of testing data.

During the period IDPH was knowingly misinforming the public, the department’s medical director, Dr. Caitlin Pedati, even appeared at several of the governor’s news conferences and spoke about what the testing data showed regarding the spread of the pandemic in Iowa. Pedati did not publicly acknowledge that IDPH was misreporting data until after Jones revealed what she had learned.

There have also been other problems with how the state reports its COVID-19 data that were not the result of errors. For example, it wasn’t until December that IDPH began following the national reporting standards for COVID-19 deaths promulgated by the CDC. The system Iowa had been using created a much lower reported COVID-19 death count. Switching to the national standard has created more accurate information, but has also created a longer lag time in the reporting of deaths. Deaths are typically not reported until at least a week after they occur, and the lag time is often longer.

Monday, March 8 will mark the one-year anniversary of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iowa. Three Johnson County residents who had recently returned from a group vacation in Egypt were diagnosed as having the virus. With the anniversary approaching, Reynolds was asked on Wednesday how she would assess her administration’s response to the pandemic.

“Well, every day we learned something new about COVID-19, and so to be able to address that and have the flexibility to make the changes [sic],” she replied. “What I would say is I have an incredible team that has worked ’round the clock over the last year. They’ve put in incredible hours. State employees, partners, nonprofits, just across board, people have stepped up and did what they needed to do to address COVID-19.”

“And so I’m really proud of just the herculean team effort that I think we’ve put in place to help serve Iowans through this really difficult time.”

During the news conference, Reynolds received her COVID-19 vaccination. The governor was vaccinated with the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, only requires one dose. At the end of last year, Reynolds said she would be vaccinated in public in order to bolster people’s confidence in the process.

Vaccinated alongside the governor at the news conference were her husband, Kevin, and Iowa Department of Human Services Director Kelly Garcia. Garcia is also the interim director of IDPH. The state’s public health agency has not had a full-time director since July 31.

Reynolds said the state has been informed it will receive 25,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week. This one-shot vaccine will be used to begin a vaccination programs for workers at Iowa meat-processing plants, which have been centers of viral transmission during the pandemic, although that has been difficult to track since it is IDPH’s policy only to disclose an outbreak at a business if directly asked about it.

The state’s supply of Johnson & Johnson vaccine will continue to be directed to this program targeting those plant workers until it is completed.

At the end of her prepared remarks at Wednesday’s news conference, the governor turned her attention to the significance of March 8.

“As we reflect on this one-year anniversary, we cannot, and should not, forget those who lost their lives to COVID-19,” she said. “On Monday, I will ask that you join me in remembering them, and praying for the peace and comfort of those who loved them.”

The governor did not mention the number of reported deaths COVID-19 has caused in Iowa. As of Wednesday morning, IDPH was reporting that 5,501 Iowans have died from the virus.

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