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‘We’re on track’: Pottawattamie County health officials prepared for mass vaccinations by end of May

Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 9:10 PM CST
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COUNCIL BLUFFS, Neb. (WOWT) - Pottawattamie County is preparing to meet President Biden’s mass vaccination plan by the end of May, and it’s moving fast.

While the task may be tougher in other parts of the Midwest, health officials in Iowa’s 9th largest county said they’re on track. That’s nearly opposite the picture from two weeks ago when vaccine rollout was behind.

At that time, Matt Wyant, director of planning and development for Pottawattamie County, detailed communication gaps between the health department and the federal government. At one point Wyant said it seemed as if the county was being left out of vaccine rollout plans completely.

But Thursday’s operation at Mid-America Center, the county’s main vaccine site, appeared to be a full-180 shift.

“There’s still a lot of ongoing planning daily, based on what we have for vaccine availability,” said Wyant.

Currently, Pott County is proceeding with Tier II of Phase 1B. At Mid-America, those ages 65 and older as well as essential workers are getting Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and food processing plant employees are getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

However, plans are changing fast because they’re ahead of the curve.

Thursday Wyant said partners “struggled to fill” the vaccine site. “While we move forward, we really have to look at how do we open up to more groups; how do we get those people in here that have those co-morbidities.”

Between the county’s 15 pharmacies, three clinic sites, reliable volunteers and the fact that vaccine demand is dropping for those 65 and older, Wyant believes they’ll be in good shape to offer vaccines to everyone who wants one by the end of May.

For Pottawattamie County, it’s no longer vaccine availability or space that at the top of their list of potential challenges, it’s maintaining workers, which Wyant said has remained strong.

“We have the rotary groups; Iowa Western Community College sends a number of students down, Connections Area Agency on Aging is signing people up that don’t have internet access, and Mid-America staff has been great. They’re disinfecting in between all of our operations” said Wyant, as he listed all of the partners who have made the transition to a successful vaccine rollout possible.

Volunteers at the Mid-America vaccine site have the capacity to administer 3,000 vaccine doses a day. Wyant said they’re averaging between 1200-1500 daily.

“The demand for 65 and older is curtailing,” said Wyant. “Whether that’s because people aren’t able to make arrangements to get vaccinated or for other reasons.”

Either way, the county is maintaining their workflow to ensure they don’t fall behind and Wyant credits another huge chunk of their efficiency to the processing plants who stepped up in a major way. Many of them send their own volunteers and even hire their own nurses to expand staff.

Food Processing Manufacturers currently being vaccinated in Pottawattamie County
Food Processing Manufacturers currently being vaccinated in Pottawattamie County(WOWT)

“All of those different plants Conagra, Tyson, Swift, OSI, Jack Link’s... are all sending in representatives to help make sure it’s a smooth and efficient process for their workers,” Wyant stated.

Wyant said County Health officials communicate with their staff and volunteers every day about vaccine plans, which is how they’ve been successful and constantly checking in with partners’ capabilities, is how they’ll meet the demand set forth by the president, moving forward.

“Those long lines waiting for vaccines that you see across the country; people won’t see that here. We’re averaging fifteen minute wait times,” said Wyant.

Upon entry at Mid-America, residents 65 and older will have rows of wheelchairs waiting for them, should they need one. They’ll be greeted by someone at the door, given a temperature check, then ushered to the proper area to wait for their dose.

Wyant said the county expects to be done vaccinating the roughly 4,600 food processing workers by Monday and should have roughly 600 extra doses that’ll be available for employees of other manufacturing companies in the area.

Pottawattamie County Health Department will make a formal announcement about that, if that indeed happens, in the coming days.

There’s also an estimated 10% of people who have not returned for their second vaccine shot. Wyant urged people to please make arrangements to complete the vaccination process and to call the health department if they have any questions or need any help.

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