Johnson County prepares for second phase of COVID-19 vaccination

Health officials say there have not been many COVID-19 vaccines wasted in phase one of vaccination.


Illustration by Kate Doolittle.

Sabine Martin, News Reporter

After administering vaccinations to health care workers and long-term care facility residents, Johnson County health organizations will pivot to the second phase of COVID-19 vaccinations on Feb. 1.

The second group, phase 1B, includes individuals age 65 and older, Pre-K-12 school staff, and first responders, according to the Johnson County Public Health website. Details about how and when people can get a vaccine have not yet been released by the Iowa Department of Public Health, though public health experts expect the vaccine to be available at 1,700 doctor’s offices, health clinics, and pharmacies in Iowa that have signed up to vaccinate individuals. 

Community Health Manager for Johnson County Public Health Sam Jarvis said Johnson County Public Health and the state of Iowa allocate doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and recruit vetted providers to work with.

Jarvis said most of the doses available are now going to Johnson County hospitals to cover phase 1A of the COVID-19 vaccine, which included front-line health care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff.

“We’re still trying to get as many people vaccinated safely and quickly as possible,” Jarvis said, “… but the role of public health is really to make sure that these doses are going to where they get where they’re needed most.”

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan earlier this month, over 9,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Johnson County since Dec. 14.

Chief Pharmacy Officer for UI Health Care Mike Brownlee, who is also a leader of the vaccination process at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said hospital leaders met with Johnson County Public Health in October to prepare for distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

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“This month we’ve had somewhat low availability of doses because the state’s been really working hard to vaccinate those long-term care facilities,” Brownlee said. “That limited some of the doses that we were able to receive.”

Brownlee said UIHC has scaled up its vaccination operation to give about 1,000 doses per day. UIHC has about 16,500 employees that are in the process of being vaccinated in phase 1A.

“You have to start planning early to make sure that it’s a streamlined process and easy for all of your staff,” he said.

Director of Hy-Vee Public Relations Christina Gayman wrote in an email to the DI that Hy-Vee, a Midwest grocery chain that has signed on to be a vaccine distributer in Iowa, collaborates with state and local departments of public health throughout its eight-state region of pharmacies.

“Hy-Vee’s pharmacy team members who administer the vaccine have completed a COVID-19 vaccine administration training and certification course and have received all available resources provided by the CDC,” Gayman wrote.

Brownlee said the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine looks like any other vaccine for the health care workers at UIHC. UIHC vaccine administrators use the same volume of vaccine and the same kind of syringes that are used for other vaccines.

“The thing we have to be cautious of is that the handling requirements are different from other vaccines that you know. There are approximately six doses in each Pfizer vial. Once you enter that vial with a needle you have six hours to use it,” Brownlee said. “That’s different from some of the other vaccines that we’re using, so we have to be very careful about scheduling.”

In Johnson County, Jarvis said, rolling out phase 1A of the vaccine wasn’t without its challenges. Information about the vaccine is constantly updated, so it is difficult to plan ahead for future vaccine allocations, he said.

“Imagine a person wants to know if they’re in 1B or 1C, which, you know, we don’t know that timeline necessarily all the time … it’s frustrating,” Jarvis said. “We’ve got to be pretty nimble and we’ve got to be pretty adaptable so that everyone’s on the same page.”

Jarvis said Johnson County’s vaccine providers, such as UIHC, have not wasted very many doses throughout phase 1A of vaccination.

He added that Johnson County wants to avoid vaccine “horror stories” that have happened across other states. According to an NBC News article, almost 12,000 COVID-19 vaccines were compromised on Wednesday in Michigan due to inadequate freezing temperatures.

“We’ve been able to manage through that with very little waste – we’ve wasted almost no doses,” Brownlee said. “I think that’s a testament to our team, which has been really great.”