April 13, 2021

VACCINE SHORTAGE: Vaccinations for Newton teachers have been postponed

Shortage of COVID-19 vaccines across the state alters Phase 1B rollout in Jasper County

Superintendent Tom Messinger had hoped his employees in the Newton Community School District would commence their first round of vaccinations at the beginning of February. But since Jasper County only received 300 doses, his plans to establish a three-day immunization clinic have been postponed.

About 340 teachers, substitutes, administrators, bus drivers and other NCSD staff were expecting to be vaccinated Feb. 1-3.

With its current stock of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, the Jasper County Health Department doesn’t have enough to inoculate the Newton faculty as timely as they wanted to, let alone the other school districts in the county, citizens ages 65 and older and other eligible essential workers in Iowa’s Phase 1B plan.

Messinger feels the Newton school district has, for the most part, been “pretty successful” in keeping students and faculty safe this year. Plus, the majority of students, he said, have been back in school “well beyond” the 50% that is required by the Iowa Department of Education.

“And we’ve not had any major outbreaks in school,” he said. “We’ve had a very strong Return to Learn plan that our staff worked hard on over the summer and into the fall that we monitor regularly … I think that that’s not going to change. We’ve got a system in place that does work really well.”

Even though that system is working, not receiving as many vaccinations is “a blow” to the teachers that had been waiting for a conclusion to COVID-19.

One of the main frustrations of the pandemic, Messinger added, was feeling like there was no end in sight. That feeling persisted until vaccines were created, tested and distributed. For some, the possibility of inoculation was enough to raise their hopes. A light at the end of that dark, dark tunnel.

“Now we don’t have the vaccinations on those dates,” Messinger told Newton News during a phone interview. “It’s kind of a blow. I think we had people that were starting to see that end in sight. And, now, we know that there’s an end to it, but we’re just not quite sure of when it is again.”

Change of plans for all schools and clinics in the county

Both the Newton Clinic and Jasper County Health Department had been in contact with the school district long before Christmas break to get started on the details of a vaccination process. The E.J.H. Beard Administration Center was going to serve as a temporary immunization clinic for Newton faculty.

Becky Pryor, administrator of Jasper County Health Department, said school employee clinics were planned at all five school districts in the region and may have to be postponed until March.

Newton Clinic was to cover the Newton schools, Medicap Pharmacy was in charge of Baxter and Colfax-Mingo, Sully Medical Clinic was to work with Lynnville-Sully and Prairie City Medical Clinic was to help PCM schools.

In addition to vaccinating its city’s educators, Newton Clinic had been scheduling appointments with people 65 and older. Pryor said the clinic was planning to vaccine 400 people per day. Medicap Pharmacy in Newton was planning to schedule around 50-60 people per day.

Jasper County Health Department estimated it would need 8,000 to 9,000 doses for all tiers in Phase 1B in Jasper County. At the current rate of only 300 doses per week, Jasper County could theoretically take 30 weeks — or until August — to finish inoculating the Phase 1B population.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a recent press conference that the state is only receiving about 19,500 doses per week. Pryor does not know why Jasper County, the 17th largest county in Iowa, received so few doses. Jasper County Health Department was hoping for at least 1,000-2,000 doses to start.

“Our partners, schools, staff and volunteers are prepared to vaccinate as many people as we can, as efficiently as we can,” Pryor told Newton News.

Jasper County wants to vaccinate ‘as quickly and efficiently as possible’

The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) did not give Jasper County an estimate of how many doses it would receive for Phase 1B. However, in contrast, the county received 1,000 doses in the first shipment for Phase 1A. The county health department plans to use the doses as soon as they become available.

Uncertainties regarding future allocations will make planning very difficult for the Jasper County Health Department and frustrates the community.

Who dispenses the vaccines? Pryor said the federal government allocates vaccines to states, which are then allocated to local public health agencies. By partnering with Medicap and Newton Clinic, for instance, those public health agencies can more easily distribute doses to the their respective communities.

Pryor noted that Phase 1A populations are getting their second wave of COVID-19 vaccinations at this time. When the long-term care facilities have completed their vaccination procedures, IDPH has indicated that more of the vaccine will be available.

“We want to serve Jasper County residents as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Pryor said. “We have plans in place and we are constantly pivoting because of the uncertainty of doses and numerous changes. We have a knowledgeable team of nurses, pharmacists, medical professionals, clinics and volunteers ready to serve as residents. We just don’t have the vaccine yet.”

How to keep up to date on the status of vaccines

Mark Thayer, clinic administrator of Newton Clinic, says more than 1,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered since Dec. 22. Thayer, who also serves on the NCSD Board of Education, was hoping for more doses of the vaccine for Phase 1B to allow for more walk-in appointments. That didn’t happen.

Scheduled appointments made for the Phase 1B rollout may have to be pushed back, too, Thayer said. Newton Clinic wants to make getting a vaccination easy for patients, but the facility is currently booked solid and isn’t taking any more appointments.

“We’re updating our technologies right now so we can automatically push those patients scheduled that we won’t have doses for next week to the following week in hopes and in anticipation that we will have doses as time goes on,” Thayer said. “The big I want to tell patients is: Nobody is going to lose their spot in line.”

To keep track of the latest vaccination updates at Newton Clinic, Thayer recommends the community send the text message “covidimm” to 641-792-2112.

“That’s going to give them the latest and great information, whether we’re accepting scheduling appointments at this time or whether we have vaccine in stock,” Thayer said. “We will change that message periodically as we do have appointments.”

Medicap Pharmacy in Newton has its schedule and forms available online.

Newton Clinic is offering vaccines for free to people without insurance and with no out-of-pocket copay for those who do have insurance.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com