Area officials: Vaccine increase, opening to all residents not likely to shorten timeline much

Patrice Lambert

Area health officials are pleased to hear of increased COVID-19 vaccine shipments, but they do not think those additional doses will be enough to vaccinate the ideal percentage of the population any time soon.

Word from the federal government to states that more doses of vaccine are coming inspired Iowa and Wisconsin to open up qualifying for vaccination to all of their residents starting Monday, April 5. And those increases are coming.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Wednesday that the state will get nearly 120,000 doses of vaccine next week, plus 45,800 doses that will be distributed via pharmacies through the Federal Retail Pharmacy program. That will result in big percentage increases for some area counties.

Dubuque County, through February and March, has received regular weekly allotments of 2,340 doses of the vaccines, as decided by the Iowa Department of Public Health. According to members of the Dubuque County COVID-19 Incident Management Team, the county’s allotment for next week will be 3,910 doses — an increase of 1,570, or 67%.

While county public health leaders said any increase is good, each official also said they could handle more.

“Even though it’s a more-than-50% increase from previous weeks, we could use 150%,” said Dubuque County Health Department Director Patrice Lambert.

Clayton County has received 400 doses per week. Next week, the state says the county’s allotment will more than double to 900.

Delaware County has received just 200 doses per week. Next week, health officials there have been told they will receive an additional 100, but those additional doses still will be reserved for its vulnerable population.

Jackson County did not have numbers when reached on Wednesday.

City of Dubuque Public Health Specialist Mary Rose Corrigan said the increased amount is still not enough to change projections of when a high enough percentage of the population vaccinated will turn the tide of the pandemic.

“This small increase is not going to change the course of us being done some time in mid-summer,” she said.

Stacey Killian — administrator of UnityPoint’s Visiting Nurse Association, contracted public health department for Clayton County — said the 900 doses next week are well within providers’ capacity to administer there.

Delaware County Public Health Manager Charity Loecke said her county has never received near the number of doses that providers there could handle. She said the 100 additional doses they will get next week being reserved for a targeted population seems like no increase at all.

“We’ve not seen an increase in vaccine until this week,” she said. “And this wasn’t an increase for the general public per se. We have the capability of doing much more.”

In Wisconsin, Grant County Public Health Director Jeff Kindrai announced in a press release Wednesday that his county would receive an increase in doses along with their state opening qualifications on Monday, April 5.

“If vaccination goes well and people are careful through May, it might be enough to make our summer more pleasant and with much less illness,” he said.

While county departments are itching for more doses, Iowa is opening up qualification for the vaccines as of Monday, April 5.

Reynolds acknowledged in a press conference Wednesday that opening will not equate to sudden access for folks who did not previously qualify.

“Expanding eligibility opens the opportunity for more Iowans to be vaccinated,” she said. “It also means more Iowans will be vying for the vaccine appointments as they become available. Even though the amount of vaccine is increasing, there still will not be enough doses to vaccinate everyone immediately.”

Corrigan said that in Dubuque County, the incident management team has 1,300 prioritized essential workers yet to begin vaccinations. So, she said those individuals will continue to be the team’s focus.

Other than that, though, all residents 16 and older qualify. To handle the increased appointments, the Dubuque County team pitched a second vaccination site at Grand River Center in Dubuque. That will come with a direct line for residents to call, and which a person will answer, to schedule appointments.

“It’s going to help our residents immensely,” Lambert said. “The (state’s) 2-1-1 has always had the vaccine navigators, but they are totally overwhelmed.”

That line will not be up and running next week. The Dubuque County Board of Supervisors has planned to vote on a resolution or memorandum of understanding with the City of Dubuque to open the site and phone line on Monday. Officials expect the setup to take at least one week.

In the meantime, Corrigan said providers will continue to contact their patients in order of vulnerability.

“What people don’t understand is they’re also responsible for giving their boosters after three weeks or four weeks,” Lambert added.

Killian said Clayton County will have a similar line, which she expects to go live at least by Monday, April 5.

Delaware and Jackson counties plan to offer online portals for scheduling appointments, as well as helping over the phone.

Corrigan and Kindrai both urged the public to continue practicing preventative measures — wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings, social distancing — until most of the population is vaccinated.

The City of Dubuque, Dubuque County and Iowa are currently seeing increases in positive cases. IDPH Director Kelly Garcia, during Wednesday’s conference, blamed much of the statewide uptick to people traveling over spring breaks.