University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics vaccinate 1,000 people Wednesday

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics began vaccinating randomly selected Johnson County residents who are 65 and older on Wednesday.


Jeff Sigmund

Community vaccinations given on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Ronald See closes his eyes as Kristen Van Scoyoc RN administers the vaccine. See said he was glad to finally get it.

Caleb McCullough, Managing Editor

Meredith Field was elated when she got the call that she had been selected as one of the first Johnson County residents in the general population to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

“I was tremendously excited,” she said. “I was practically hyperventilating. Because the only way we’re going to beat this thing is to get people vaccinated, and I’m glad to be part of it.” 

Field, a 67-year-old from Iowa City, was selected at random through a lottery system, along with about 1,000 other people 65 and older who received their shots on Wednesday from UIHC. Since the beginning of Phase 1B on Monday, Iowa has opened up vaccinations to people 65 and older, as well as pre-K-12 workers, and first responders. But officials have cautioned that the rollout will be slow-going because of uncertainty around the volume of vaccines coming into the county. 

Suresh Gunasekaran, UIHC CEO, told reporters the hospital received 1,000 doses on Tuesday and was on track to use every dose on Wednesday before 5 p.m. The hospital randomly selected a little more than 1,000 people aged 65 and older who expressed interest in receiving the vaccine. Then, the hospital contacted them, the majority by phone and some through the online scheduling service MyChart. Gunasekaran emphasized that the hospital could have vaccinated double or triple the number vaccinated Wednesday, but the vaccine shortage stopped them short.

“What we wanted to show today is and show everyday is that as soon as we get the doses, we have the capability in this community to get that in people’s arms within a day or two,” Gunasekaran said. “And that even if the number is 1000, or 2000, or 3000, we really feel like we could do that in a single day.”

At 6.2 percent, Iowa is currently second-to-last among the 50 states in percentage of the population that have received their first dose, according to the Washington Post’s vaccine tracker. Only Idaho ranks lower, at 6 percent. Gunasekaran said he thought the statewide vaccination efficiency was improving.

Johnson County Public Health currently doesn’t have a way for people to sign up for vaccinations, but hospitals including UIHC and Mercy Iowa City will be reaching out to patients 65 and older to make appointments. 

The Iowa Department of Public Health also said Wednesday that Walgreens and CVS will begin allowing people 65 and older to register for vaccines left over from what was allocated to long-term care facilities. The department said the two national pharmacies have over 32,000 vaccines available.

Community vaccinations given on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Kristen Van Scoyoc RN administers the vaccine to Carter Kibble. Kibble received his first round at the UI Health Support Services Building, which is located at 3285 Ridgeway Dr., Coralville.(Jeff Sigmund/Daily Iowan) (Jeff Sigmund)

UIHC is expecting a new shipment every week, but will only know the allotment on a week-by-week basis. 

Gunasekaran said UIHC is prioritizing people over the age of 75 in scheduling vaccination appointments, but UIHC didn’t have detailed medical information of every person who expressed interest, leading them to do a random selection process by assigning everyone a number and calling the first 1,000 names at the top of the randomly generated list. 

“If we had complete and perfect information, then we might have entertained not doing it random,” Gunasekaran said. “But really going by medical risk factor and these other things. But with incomplete information, we just felt as though random selection was the best way to go.”

UIHC had some difficulty reaching some patients to schedule an appointment, Gunasekaran told reporters, leaving multiple messages over several days before moving onto the next person.

Field works at UIHC’s Center for Disability and Development, but as she doesn’t work directly with patients, she wasn’t eligible during Phase 1A. 

With some of her family living on the East Coast, Field said she has gotten used to Zoom calls since March, and she decided not to visit them for Christmas. She said she hopes to be able to visit her family soon as more of the population is vaccinated, but she doesn’t intend to change her behavior too quickly after she receives her second dose. 

“I’m going to be doing exactly what I’ve been doing for months now which is masking up, keeping my distance,” she said. “…I’ll continue to work remotely until my co-workers and more people in the community are vaccinated so it’s safe to be out and about, and unfortunately I don’t think that’s going to happen for a while but we’re working on it, and that’s all we can do.”


Community vaccinations given on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Virjen Sellman sits in the waiting area after she received her vaccination. Patients are required to wait for 15 minutes to make sure they do not reactions to the vaccine. (Jeff Sigmund/Daily Iowan) (Jeff Sigmund)

Many people said they wouldn’t substantially change their behavior or begin to go out more after receiving their second dose, as most people in the population are still not vaccinated. Kudrle said the presence of new, more contagious variants of the virus also give him concerns about completely stopping social distancing. 

The Moderna vaccine produces antibodies against the U.K. variant, which was found this week in Johnson County, but is less effective against the South Africa variant. The South Africa variant hasn’t been detected in Iowa. 

Ronald See, 77, a retired farmer from Solon, said the pandemic hasn’t changed his behavior too much. He said he may start going places a little more once he receives his second shot, but he would still keep social distancing in mind.

“In church they’re starting some things, but you gotta stay so far apart, I’ll probably go to church,” he said. “And I might go see some friends if they got the shot.”

Other patients were excited to be among the first in the 65 and older category in their area to be vaccinated, and said they were happy to receive the vaccine, because that’s what will get the pandemic under control. 

“I’m happy, the sooner you get the shot the better,” said Carter Kudrle, a North Liberty resident. “Because that’s the only way we’re going to get out of this mess.”

Kudrle, 80, had a case of COVID-19 in November. He didn’t need to be hospitalized, but he received UIHC’s home treatment and said it took six to seven weeks before he felt back to normal.

Virjean Cellman, 83, from Tiffin, said she was grateful to receive the vaccine on Wednesday. She said she feels like it’s the beginning of things returning to normal after 11 months of the pandemic.

“I just feel that if they’re offering the vaccine, then people should take advantage of it and try to get this virus stopped,” Cellman said.

Sarah Watson contributed to this report.

How to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine

Iowa began vaccinating people 65 and older and certain occupation groups part of Phase 1B beginning Feb. 1.

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: Eligible UIHC patients can express interest in receiving the vaccine through their MyChart account. Community members who are not currently patients and interested in receiving the vaccine can submit an interest form on UIHC will contact by phone those who are randomly selected to pre-schedule a vaccine appointment.

Mercy Iowa City is contacting patients who are eligible to schedule an appointment.

Walgreens: Beginning Feb. 3, Iowans 65 years and older can sign up for a vaccine appointment at Walgreens locations in 10 Iowa counties: Johnson, Linn, Scott, Dubuque, Polk, Black Hawk, Cerro Gordo, Des Moines, Pottawattamie, and Woodbury. Walgreens offers online registration and a guide to how to register.

CVS: Beginning Feb. 4, Iowans 65 years and older can sign up for a vaccine appointment in one of four Iowa counties: Black Hawk, Dallas, Linn, Polk. Register online here. View the registration guide here.