University of Iowa and others mark one-year anniversary of first COVID vaccines given

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A COVID vaccine was tested in August 2020 at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the first COVID vaccines being administered in the U.S. On Dec. 14, 2020, University of Iowa Health Care employees made history, becoming the first in Iowa and among the first in the nation to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

One year later, we have made significant progress. Iowa’s vaccination efforts, which started with 178 UI Health Care employees on that first day, have since expanded and close to 2 million Iowans have been safely vaccinated, according to a university release, noting thousands of lives have been saved and millions have been protected from becoming severely ill from COVID-19. 

“There have been many important milestones during the pandemic, and one that sticks out is the first day of vaccinations,” Suresh Gunasekaran, chief executive officer at UI Hospitals & Clinics, said in the release. “This was an exciting and joyous day, providing a much-needed spark of hope for our staff during the darkest days of the pandemic. We are thankful and proud that our staff were among the first to receive the vaccine, one of the many ways we have led the way throughout the pandemic.”  

Suresh Gunasekaran is CEO of UI Hospitals & Clinics.

By February, after only two months from the vaccines being made available to health care workers, approximately 73% of UI Health Care employees had received the vaccine, and that number has since continued to grow to more than 90%. Soon after, UI Health Care began vaccinating the broader community and has since vaccinated thousands of Iowans, from 65+ years old to as young as 5 years old. 

Although Iowa has made significant vaccination progress, and more than 200 million Americans and over 4 billion people across the globe have been safely vaccinated, there are millions who remain unvaccinated or are in need of a booster shot, the UI release said. This has allowed the virus to continue circulating and produce new variants of the original strain, such as delta and omicron, the newest variant of concern.

The U.S. is closing in on 800,000 deaths related to COVID since the start of the pandemic (now at 797,208).

“The good news is that we have made substantial progress in getting the public vaccinated, so even as new COVID-19 variants arrive, we will not go back to square one,” said Mike Brownlee, chief pharmacy officer at UI Health Care. “Our experts believe it is likely that existing vaccines will continue to be highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalizations from COVID-19, even with the emergence of omicron and other variants.”

Vaccines, boosters, masks are important

The emergence of a new variant is just one more reason why vaccines, boosters, and safety measures such as wearing a mask and keeping six feet apart are so important. If you are currently unvaccinated or eligible for a booster, UI Health Care encourages you to get a vaccine to protect yourself and others. 

“The pandemic has served as a powerful reminder of how interconnected we are,” Gunasekaran said. “We must work together as a collective whole to end this pandemic, and we should celebrate how far we have come and how many people have gotten vaccinated this past year to protect themselves and others. Every day, more people decide to get their COVID-19 vaccine, joining the hundreds of millions who have already been safely vaccinated. Each additional person who gets a vaccine brings us one step closer to the end of the pandemic, and that is a very good reason to be hopeful about the future.” 

Everyone who is 18 and older should get a COVID booster shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

UI Health Care encourages those who are already vaccinated to get a booster shot to maximize their immunity against COVID-19 and help prevent the spread of new variants like omicron. The CDC recently expanded booster eligibility and now recommends all vaccinated individuals 16 and older receive a booster shot either when they are six months after their initial Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna series or two months after their initial Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

The rates for all those 12 and up fully vaccinated in the Quad Cities region are currently:

  • Muscatine County: 68 percent
  • Scott County: 66 percent
  • Rock Island County: 66 percent
  • Henry County: 64 percent
  • Whiteside County: 63 percent
  • Mercer County: 63 percent
  • Clinton County: 60 percent

UPS on Tuesday also announced that it surpassed the one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses delivery mark, with near-perfect on-time delivery. Just one year after the first vaccine was delivered by UPS, this milestone was made possible through UPS’s innovative approaches, one-of-a-kind UPS Premier tracking technologies, industry-leading cold chain solutions, and a global network providing UPS Healthcare services to customers and communities around the world, the company said.

Visit vaccines.gov to find your shot. Rock Island County Health Department offers walk-in vaccines on Tuesdays (Moderna and Johnson & Johnson) and Fridays (Pfizer). The hours for both days are 9 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. Boosters or third doses for immunocompromised people are available on the same day as first and second doses.

They offer vaccines for children ages 5-11 by appointment on Fridays. Pediatric clinics are full until Dec. 17. The link for the Dec. 17 clinic will be posted at 10 a.m. Dec. 15 on the health department’s Facebook page.

For more information about COVID-19 vaccines, visit uihc.org/covid-vaccine.

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