GOP officials urge vaccinations but is Iowa prepared for delta variant?

July 26, 2021 8:00 am

Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, left, shown here delivering a COVID-19 vaccine shot at a workplace vaccination clinic in Ottumwa, is among Republicans urging vaccinations to combat the delta variant of COVID-19. (Screen shot from Miller-Meeks video)

 U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley took to Twitter last week to encourage all eligible Iowans and Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The Delta variant scares me so I hope those that haven’t been vaccinated will reconsider,” he wrote.

It scares, me, too. Iowa’s new COVID-19 infections, while still relatively low, are rapidly picking up steam. The New York Times’ tracker shows a daily average of 193 new cases as of Thursday, a 257% increase from the previous two weeks. Just over half of the state’s population remains unvaccinated, a figure that hasn’t budged for weeks. The rate for adults is better at 61% but still short of national goals.

Just to our south, Missouri is one of the nation’s hot spots, with new COVID-19 cases averaging over 2,200 a daily and over 1,500 in the hospital.

Medical experts say the delta variant, first reported in India, is more contagious and potentially more deadly than older variants. Existing vaccines remain extremely safe and effective and the best defense against the delta variant, but they’re not perfect. Breakthrough infections, while rare, have happened and while most vaccinated people don’t get seriously ill, a few have.

Iowa has been dismantling its virus management infrastructure

Iowa has already endured surges of this virus, and another could well be on the doorstep. Meanwhile, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration has been busy dismantling the infrastructure that could help Iowa avoid or minimize another serious outbreak:

  • Iowa Department of Public Health has drastically scaled back reporting of virus activity on its website, with updates coming only weekly instead of multiple times a day.
  • Test Iowa has closed up its drive-through COVID-19 test sites. Free home test kits are available and people can access tests from their doctor but the clear expectation is that fewer and fewer people will want or need tests.
  • Reynolds and the GOP-controlled Legislature have forbidden schools from mandating mask-wearing and required all districts to offer 100% in-person classes. If Iowa is mid-surge when fall classes resume, schools that lack space for social distancing cannot impose masks or hybrid schedules.
  • The Iowa State Fair, university football games and other large-scale events are scheduled to take place with no capacity restrictions or mask requirements.

Grassley, who had COVID-19 in November, is not the only Republican promoting vaccination. Republican Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks got up on the House floor to raise the alarm about the delta variant and directly address vaccine hesitancy.

“It is miraculous to have three safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 so rapidly; however, the speed of development may give some Americans pause. Therefore, it is critical to emphasize that no safety shortcuts were taken and reassure our constituents that the vaccines are safe and effective,” she said. “Decades of research informed the development of these breakthrough vaccines, and millions have been vaccinated with incredibly low risk.”

Grassley and Miller-Meeks have both encouraged vaccinations in the past, but last week also saw surprising statements encouraging vaccination from the likes of FOX News’ Sean Hannity: “Please take COVID seriously. I can’t say it enough. Enough people have died. We don’t need any more death. I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccination.”

Reynolds silent on efforts to prevent a surge

Reynolds has been silent on the subject over the past week, after crowing about her management of the pandemic during a conservative interest-group’s event on July 16.  She did extend her COVID-19 emergency proclamation Friday afternoon, which consists mostly of regulatory relief for health care facilities. She also sent out a tweet from her official account publicizing a vaccine clinic at the Iowa State Fair.

It would make more sense for the governor to urge people to get vaccinated before they mingle with thousands of others at the state fair.

Maybe there are still some Iowans who are willing to be vaccinated, if only the opportunity presents itself between the cattle barn and the Bud tent. We should do all we can to assist. But it appears more likely that those who haven’t been vaccinated are either complacent, misguided or operating out of misplaced fears about the risk of a vaccine compared to the risk of contracting this disease.

That’s dangerous for everyone, vaccinated or not, because the more viruses spread, the more they mutate. The more viruses mutate, the less effective our vaccines become. This is a problem that involves all of us.

An Iowa Department of Public Health spokesperson had little to say when contacted by the Iowa Capital Dispatch about what they’re doing to prepare for a new surge. Beyond a marketing campaign launched last month and some pop-up vaccine clinics at public events, the state has offered no new ideas for encouraging vaccination. Local efforts by Polk County to entice vaccinations through a lottery and other promotions haven’t been as effective as officials hoped, the Des Moines Register reported.

Without a new coronavirus flare-up, Iowa could be headed for much better times. The economy has recovered quickly. More people are in the workforce and the upward pressure on wages, plus a new federal child tax credit, mean many families could soon be better off than they were before the pandemic. Iowans have enjoyed a relatively carefree summer with a return to normal activities like dining out and visiting with family and friends.

Nobody wants to see a return to shutdowns, business disruptions and event cancelations. Our elderly loved ones should not have to endure another lonely season with visitor restrictions. We all have the ability and the responsibility to do something to prevent that.

It’s a relief to see some Republicans trying to persuade resistant Iowans to get their jabs, but it’s not enough. We need to see what our state leaders are doing to prevent another surge. All Iowans need to do their part by getting vaccinated if they can and encouraging their family, friends and neighbors to do likewise.

Let’s not allow more sickness, deaths and economic havoc when it’s in our power to prevent it.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.