Linn County will receive an increased number of COVID-19 vaccines through the end of February

Army Spc. Angel Laureano holds a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Dec. 14, 2020. — Lisa Ferdinando/Department of Defense

Linn County’s vaccine allocation will increase for the remainder of February, although public health officials are still expecting it to take “weeks to months” to vaccinate residents in Phase 1B.

Starting this week, the county will receive about 3,000 doses per week for the next three weeks, said Heather Meador, Linn County Public Health’s Clinical Services Supervisor. Linn County has been receiving about 1,000 doses per week.

The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program will also begin in Iowa this week, Meador said during the news conference on Monday afternoon. The program is a collaboration between the federal government, states and 21 pharmacy partners. Hy-Vee and CPESN pharmacies are the initial retail pharmacy partners in Iowa.

Participating store locations and details on how to make an appointment will be announced this week and additional pharmacies added at a later date, Meador said. The availability of vaccines at CVS and Walgreens that was announced last week is not part of the program.

“While this is a federal program, Linn County Public Health will provide updated information on the program on our COVID-19 vaccine webpage,” Meador said.

Despite the increased supply of vaccine in the county, Meador said it will still take “weeks to months” to get everyone in Phase 1B vaccinated.

“We have a very large population in Linn County when we look at Phase 1B,” Meador said. “When we’re looking at some of our census data, we have over 35,000 individuals that are over the age of 65. We are estimating about 10,000 individuals that are in the school districts that will need to be vaccinated and then we keep working our way down. It’s going to take a while to get through 1B. A lot of this will be dependent on how much vaccine comes in.”

Meador acknowledged the first week of Phase 1B “was challenging.” LCPH has heard frustrations from the community, especially from individuals 65 and older, about how appointments were announced and the limited vaccine availability.

Phase 1B includes first responders, K-12 school staff, early childhood education and childcare workers and child welfare social workers. Individuals 65 and older are also part of Phase 1B and have been eligible to be vaccinated in Linn County since Jan. 26.

Healthcare providers in the county have been contacting residents 65 and older to schedule appointments for the vaccine. Meador said that communication methods to offer vaccine appointments have included phone, mail, email, text or messaging systems such as MyChart. Due to limited vaccine supply, residents should not call their clinics to request a vaccine.

LCPH is working on providing a “consistent allocation of vaccine” to local healthcare providers starting the week of Monday, Feb. 15, in an effort to provide a better predictability for vaccine appointment availability, Meador said.

“Our confidence in being able to provide consistent allocations has increased with the announcement from the Iowa Department of Public Health that Linn County’s allocations will remain steady through the end of February,” Meador said.

Meador explained the best way to receive up-to-date vaccine information is for residents to visit their health provider’s website or social media. For individuals who don’t have access to the internet or who communicate primarily by phone, LCPH has set up a COVID-19 vaccine call center.

The center is staffed by four to six people Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Residents with questions about vaccine eligibility, appointment scheduling or who don’t have a primary care provider are asked to call the center at 319-892-6097.

“Linn County Public Health is working with all of the Linn County providers to ensure vaccine will eventually be available to everyone that wants it,” Meador said. “Due to the limited amount of vaccine available, appointments are required and they are anticipated to fill quickly. Additional appointments will be open as the vaccine supply increases.”

Meador also offered a reminder that the mask mandates in Cedar Rapids and Linn County remain in effect despite Gov. Kim Reynolds eliminating the limited statewide mask mandate. The local regulations require individuals to wear face coverings in public places when six feet of physical distancing is not possible.

“The science is clear — there is no doubt that mask-wearing, hand washing and social distancing reduce the spread of COVID-19 and saves lives,” Meador said. “At a time when we continue to see deaths in our community and vaccine supply is scarce, we must use all the tools in our toolbox to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Meador stressed the importance of mitigation measures LCPH has been encouraging since the beginning — wearing a mask, social distancing, washing hands and staying home when sick — especially in light of the B117 variant that was confirmed in Johnson County and Bremer County earlier this month. (The B117 variant is also known as the U.K variant, since it was first detected in the United Kingdom.)

Studies have estimated the B117 variant is 50 percent more contagious than the strain of the virus typical in the United States.

Meador said public health is “always concerned” about a possible surge, but now there is also the possibility of a potential surge impacting vaccine rollout.

“How it can impact things is if you are sick with COVID-19, you are not able to receive a vaccine. You have to wait until you’ve hit that recovery mark,” Meador said. “We could have people having to delay being vaccinated because they’re ill. That also is hard when we’re trying to schedule people in and now we’re having to move things around. When we have the vaccine, it’s a multi-dose vial, which means that each vial contains multiple doses. Once we open that vial, we only have so long to use it, and if people are not showing up because they’re sick, then we’re scrambling to try to find somebody else to get that vaccine into. It can make things much more difficult.”

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