Reynolds asks all Iowans to be vaccinated but won’t require it of state-employed caregivers

Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference at Iowa PBS on March 31, 2021. (Screen shot from Iowa PBS livestream)

After repeatedly urging all Iowans to get their COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Kim Reynolds reiterated Tuesday that she will not be requiring health care workers in state-run care facilities to be vaccinated.

“Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, and it’s what will allow us to return to living our lives in the ways that we value the most,” Reynolds said at a press conference. She asked all Iowans to “take the final step in getting life back to normal. If you get a chance, get vaccinated as soon as you are able, and take whatever vaccine you are offered.”

When asked why her administration is not making vaccinations a condition of employment for the caregivers and other workers in  state-run facilities that provide health services for veterans and the disabled, Reynolds declined to say, but acknowledged “we are encouraging them to do that, (but we’re) not going to make it a mandate.” Reynolds said workers in those facilities are free to make their own decisions.

After Reynolds spoke, Kelly Garcia, the director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, which is the agency that manages most of Iowa’s state-run care facilities, said it was “critical” that all eligible Iowans get vaccinated.

Kelly Garcia, director of the Iowa Department of Human Services. (Screenshot from Iowa PBS livestream)

“It is especially important that everyone get vaccinated as soon as possible, and that they take any vaccine that is made available to them,” Garcia said. “We now have key tools to stop the spread and we must use them … While you may be healthy and less likely to have a really bad outcome if you get the virus, think about the older loved ones in your life. Think about those you work with. Think about the young people in your life, and those you come into contact with casually in your daily whereabouts. You don’t want to be the person who spreads this virus to those in your community. This is a community action, and we need everyone to participate.”

As of mid-March, more than 700 state employees who help care for Iowans in facilities were still refusing the coronavirus vaccine. Of the 660 employees at western Iowa’s Glenwood Resource Center for profoundly disabled individuals, 323 — or 49% of the home’s workforce — had refused the vaccine at that time. Of the 323 Glenwood employees who have refused the vaccine, 256 are considered direct-care or clinical workers.

Jane Hudson of the advocacy organization Disability Rights Iowa has said she’s “shocked” the state isn’t requiring employees of such  facilities to be vaccinated, adding that having unvaccinated direct-care workers in those settings “puts people at risk.”

A March 21 Iowa Poll conducted by Selzer & Co. for the Des Moines Register and Mediacom found that 41% of Republicans in the state, and 45% of Iowans who say they voted for President Trump in 2020, have no intention of being vaccinated. Reynolds was asked why she thinks so many Iowans are reluctant to be vaccinated.

“I’m visiting clinics and so I can tell you the response that I see from Iowans that are there getting the vaccine,” Reynolds replied. “There is a pep in their step. They are so grateful to have it. They are excited to reconnect with family members. They really believe that this is an opportunity to get things back to normal.”

As for persuading hesitant Iowans to get the vaccine, she said that task might be better handled by “community leaders, people they feel comfortable with, really talking to them, more so than me.”