Iowa prepares to distribute first round of COVID-19 vaccines

Iowa has ramped up the number of COVID-19 vaccinations, the state reported. (Photo by Javier Zayas Photography/Getty Images)

Iowa is preparing to distribute its first round of COVID-19 vaccines to health care workers and long-term care residents and staff, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced on Thursday.

The state is expected to receive enough Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to provide shots for 172,000 people, beginning the week of Dec. 13, Reynolds said. With the limited supply of vaccines, the process of distribution will prioritize exposed and vulnerable populations, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Iowa Department of Human Services Director Kelly Garcia.

Both of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines require two shots to be effective. Iowa will distribute the vaccines to health care facilities and a reserve amount will go to nursing home residents and staff. The general public can expect to receive the vaccine by mid-2021, Garcia said.

Recipients must wait 21 days between doses for the Pfizer shots and 28 days for the Moderna shots.

Kelly Garcia, director of Iowa Department of Human Services and acting director of Iowa Department of Public Health, speaks during a news conference Dec. 3, 2020 at Iowa PBS. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS)

“Life will not immediately be back to normal,” Garcia warned. “We have winter months ahead and we need to make sure our health care workers can provide the highest level of care to Iowans.”

Vaccine supplies will be stored at six undisclosed metropolitan locations, Garcia said. State officials do not plan on sharing the locations out of a security precaution. 

Iowa has opted to participate in the CDC’s Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, which works with private pharmacies to provide on-site vaccines for nursing homes and other facilities. 

Walgreens, CVS and Community Pharmacy will provide free, on-site vaccinations to long-term care facilities within 75 miles to help ensure rural areas also have access. 

“It became incredibly clear our most vulnerable population is in long-term care facilities,” Garcia said.

During her news conference, Reynolds had Brooks Jackson, vice president of medical affairs at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine, speak about the safety measures taken to test the vaccine. Trials for the Pfizer vaccine were conducted at the college.

Pfizer and Moderna tested their vaccines on 44,000 people and 30,000 people, respectively — a significantly higher number than the few thousand people who typically participate in drug trials. Their 95% efficacy rates are higher than the annual flu vaccine, which are 75% effective in healthy adults.

“The safety measures put into place for these studies were careful and they are the same steps taken with any vaccine development, except in this case, they involve tens of thousands of volunteers instead of typically a couple thousand volunteers,” Jackson said.

Until the vaccines are widely distributed, Reynolds said, Iowans will need to continue mitigating the spread of COVID-19 by wearing face masks and avoiding large gatherings.

“It will take a little more time until the vaccines are widely available,” the governor said. “We’re too close now to have to go through another surge.”