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COVID-19 vaccinations continue in Pottawattamie County
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COVID-19 vaccinations continue in Pottawattamie County

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Vaccine day in Pottawattamie County.

On Wednesday, COVID-19 vaccinations continued in the area, with Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital, All Care Health Center and Pottawattamie County Public Health doling out their first doses. CHI Health Mercy Council Bluffs started vaccinating nurses on Tuesday.

"I feel a sense of hope and a sense of relief," Dr. Sumit Mukherjee, pulmonary critical care physician and medical director of the intensive care unit at Jennie Edmundson, said after being among the first to receive the Moderna shot at the hospital. "This has been a big step. To have this now gives us the motivation to keep pushing and keeping fighting.

"I’m just very hopeful and excited."

Intensive care nurse Kelly Raes said, "It’s a new day and a new beginning for all of us."

Raes said she hopes the vaccine will bring a decline in the number of critically ill COVID-19 patients that pass through the ICU. The hospital has seen countless days at full capacity in the unit.

"It's been a losing battle more times than not. It’s been very stressful," she said, describing the recovery process as a long one.

The hospital received 400 doses, which will be administered over the next few weeks. Mukherjee said he stepped up to be vaccinated, and thinks it's important others do so as well, for a number of reasons.

"Part of my 'why' -- in addition to my family, community, coworkers and patients -- is science and medicine," he said.

The physician said he trusts the vaccine. He noted that while brought to market quickly, "It’s gone through the appropriate steps and criteria for safety and efficacy." The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 18. The Pfizer-BioNTech has previously been approved through an emergency use authorization by the FDA.

Both vaccines require two doses, with Moderna’s 28 days apart and Pfizer-BioNTech’s 21 days apart.

"It’s something I believe in strongly," Mukherjee said. "That’s why I wanted to take the vaccine as soon as possible."

At the Mid-America Center, Pottawattamie County Public Health staff, along with an assist from employees from other departments, hosted a vaccination clinic for first responders with the Council Bluffs Fire Department and volunteer departments in the county, along with health clinics not attached to the large health systems in the area and school nurses.

The county will dispense 400 doses during clinics Wednesday and today at the MAC and at an Oakland clinic held Wednesday night.

"It was nerve-wracking. Lots of planning and preparation," Public Health Director Matt Wyant said. "I'm glad it's here, it's exciting."

At the clinic, attendees with appointments first go through a triage area to ensure they’re eligible for the vaccine -- Wyant noted among the reasons a person might need to consult their physician before being vaccinated include allergies, if the person is on blood thinners, if they’re pregnant or nursing and if they’re immunocompromised. Then it’s time for the shot.

“Easy peasy,” Teresa Tenner of Minden said afterward. “No problem. And you even get a sucker afterward.”

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Tenner is a member of the Minden Volunteer Fire Department and also the town’s city clerk.

“We need this to be over with. The doctors are saying it’s safe. It’s safe. The sooner more people get it, the better,” Tenner said.

Claudia Barajas, a nurse at Grifols plasma clinic in Council Bluffs, said she came to the MAC, “to protect everybody, to protect myself, protect everybody I work with, protect my family.”

“Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “This won’t be the end. But at least we can see its coming to an endpoint. And we can start moving forward with our lives.”

All Care Health Center received 100 doses and hopes to have all willing employees vaccinated by the end of next week.

“It’s a first good step to get ahead of this,” said Marquitta Hawkins, a technician at the clinic’s TestIowa site. “I’m hoping a lot more people get vaccinated. It’s the responsible thing to do.”

All Care’s co-medical director Teresa Dowling, who’s also a nurse practitioner, said, “As a primary care provider, I’m always telling people to do what they can to prevent illness and disease. This is my chance to practice what I preach.”

All Care has been a TestIowa site since July and has provided COVID-19 tests through the clinic longer than that. Dowling said it’s great to reach this milestone.

As vaccinations continue, Wyant said, “significantly less” vaccine is coming to the county next week, with those doses going to area health systems. Wyant said the county will find out more about its next allotment on Monday. After the holidays the county will hold additional clinics at the MAC.

Right now, Pottawattamie County and others counties in the area are receiving only the Moderna vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine requires extreme cold storage conditions. Wyant said the county had set up storage with partners in Nebraska, but Iowa didn't allow that.

Asked if the inability to take on the Pfizer vaccine impacts how many doses reach the county, Wyant said it’s something he’s asked the state about.

“The first doses of Pfizer went out to everyone else in the state but us. Then we got our allotment of Moderna, then to see our allotment of Moderna cut by so much,” Wyant said.

The state vaccine distribution plan called for allotments based on population.

“Right now they're not showing that it was equitable across the state,” Wyant said.

An Iowa Department of Public Health spokeswoman said she'd work to clarify information on the situation when contacted by the Nonpareil.

Vaccinations are first going to health care workers, first responders and residents and staff at long-term care facilities. Next will come residents 75 years old and older, along with teachers and school staff, food processing workers and other essential workers before eventually reaching the general population.

Mukherjee and Raes with Jennie Edmundson said that while the vaccine offers a glimmer of hope, we won't be putting away the masks or stop distancing anytime soon.

"We have to not get lax in what we have been doing. That won’t help our situation. People still need to be safe, take precautions, protect one another. Like we have all along," Raes said.

"We need to continuing to push for education and behavioral modifications to prevent the spread," Mukherjee said. "A single shot doesn’t mean we take off our masks and go back to normal. We phase into it. So much of this is a sense of community, that we’re all in this together."

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