Iowa leaders plead for vaccination as cases rise, delta variant spreads

By: - July 23, 2021 4:11 pm

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution Wednesday night to block President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate on private employers. (Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Elected leaders and public health officials are pleading with Iowans to get vaccinated as the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 spreads in the state.

“Right now, we’re in a race against getting people vaccinated versus the variant spreading,” said Nola Aigner Davis, communications officer for the Polk County Health Department.

The delta variant became the common strain of COVID-19 in Iowa in early July. It’s significantly better at spreading than other, earlier strains of the virus, and early studies show it could cause more severe symptoms. The variant has spread rapidly through the United States and the Midwest, ravaging states and counties with low vaccination rates. 

Just south of Iowa, Missouri this week reported daily case totals of nearly 3,000, matching levels from this January. Missouri’s vaccination rate is also lagging behind the national average: Just 50% of Missouri adults are fully vaccinated, according to New York Times data, compared to a national rate of nearly 60%.

Iowa’s COVID-19 cases have not spiked as significantly, but have increased in recent weeks. An average of 201 Iowans test positive each day, according to the New York Times, a 271% increase from the daily average two weeks ago. Iowa is in the middle of the pack on vaccinations: 61% of adults are fully vaccinated, putting the Hawkeye State at 23rd among the states.

Read more: What do Iowans need to know about the delta variant?

Iowa Department of Public Health spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand that Iowa has made “great progress” with vaccinations.

“With the rise in prevalence of the delta variant, we are urging all Iowans to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible,” Ekstrand wrote in an email to the Iowa Capital Dispatch. “The vaccine is the key to reducing virus activity, saving lives and keeping our health care resources available for all Iowans’ needs.”

Ekstrand said the state has an ongoing multimedia campaign to inform Iowans about the importance of being vaccinated. 

Linn County Public Health Director Pramod Dwivedi said he was “begging and pleading” with people to get vaccinated.

“This is the miracle that we don’t want to squander,” he said. “There’s no treatment yet. The only way we can save our health and ourselves is by getting the vaccination.”

Politicians, pundits encourage vaccinations

Several of Iowa’s elected officials made statements about the delta variant this week. On Twitter, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said he was scared by the delta variant and asked Iowans who have not yet been vaccinated to “reconsider.”

U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a physician who previously served as the director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, encouraged Iowans to be vaccinated on the House floor on Wednesday.

“Fully engaged living is threatened by the delta variant, which is causing increased hospitalizations and deaths, especially among those unvaccinated,” she said.

Miller-Meeks also appeared with the GOP Doctors’ Caucus to further the theory that the coronavirus originated from a Chinese laboratory. Scientists have not conclusively determined where COVID-19 originated.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that many top Republicans have started encouraging their followers to get vaccinated due to the delta variant. U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana just received his first dose of a Pfizer vaccine, telling the Post that the surge of the delta variant motivated him to do so.

Some conservative news hosts have also turned around on vaccinations. Fox News commentator Sean Hannity on Monday encouraged viewers to be vaccinated.

What should I do about the delta variant?

Aigner Davis of the Polk County Health Department emphasized that the most important thing an unvaccinated Iowan can do is get the shots.

“If you haven’t gotten vaccinated, I don’t know what you’re waiting for,” she said. “This is the best way to protect your health.”

For fully vaccinated people, Aigner Davis suggested they continue to practice COVID mitigation strategies, like social distancing and frequent hand-washing. 

“If you feel uncomfortable somewhere, wear a mask,” she said.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.