COVID vaccination slows in N'West Iowa

Carla Starkenburg, a O’Brien County Public Health Office nurse, sets out a sign next to the office’s booth at the county fair in Primghar marking the site as a COVID-19 dispensing spot. The public health office offered vaccines there Monday, July 26, and Wednesday, July 28, to those who scheduled a vaccine appointment in advance.

REGIONAL—The calls for COVID-19 vaccine appointments have slowed to a trickle in recent weeks at the O’Brien County Public Health Office.

“It’s not nearly as busy as it had been earlier this year, but there are still a few calls,” said Carla Starkenburg, a public health nurse who works at the Primghar office.

Her words reflect a statewide vaccine trend that’s also apparent in N’West Iowa.

According to data from the Iowa Department of Public Health, the peak period for COVID-19 vaccinations was March-April. Vaccine providers in Iowa were given the all-clear to administer the immunization to adults in the general public in early April.

Daily vaccination totals gradually declined through the rest of April-July. In July, the highest single-day vaccine administration in the state was a little more than 4,000 doses.

Statewide, 46.9 percent of Iowans were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Thursday, July 29; percentages of people fully vaccinated in the four N’West Iowa counties were lower than that.

  • Lyon County: 29.4 percent.
  • O’Brien County: 41.5 percent.
  • Osceola County: 38 percent.
  • Sioux County: 33.6 percent.

Other providers in N’West Iowa that offer the COVID-19 vaccine echoed Starkenburg while talking about administering the immunization this summer.

Kate Nagel, clinic manager at Avera Medical Group Rock Rapids, said the facility saw a “big surge” of people getting vaccinated in April-May but that numbers decreased following that time period.

The Avera site, along with Sanford Health Rock Rapids Clinic, had been holding vaccination clinics in the Lyon County seat community to immunize large groups of people. However, due to dwindling appointments, Nagel said Health Services of Lyon County eventually took over handling such clinics.

Jeremy McClennen, director of patient care services at Hegg Health Center in Rock Valley, said an initial obstacle for the facility when it came to vaccine distribution was matching demand with supply of the vaccine.

“Supply of the vaccine has improved and there is no longer a shortage. We continue to see a steady number of individuals each week receive the vaccine,” McClennen said.

The Hegg Medical Clinic offers the two-dose Moderna and single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which are available by appointment or walk-in.

The Rock Valley facility — along with Hawarden Regional Medical Center, Orange City Area Health System, Promise Community Health Center and Sioux Center Health — receives its vaccine doses from Sioux County’s public health agency, Community Health Partners, in Orange City. The agency in turn gets regular allocations of vaccine doses from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Sarah Van Wyk, a community health nurse and family support specialist at Community Health Partners, said the number of doses it gets depends on the demand the providers are experiencing.

“We are in correspondence with the department of public health. Every other week on Monday, they ask if we are in need of the vaccine and then we reach out to our partners and we come up with the need for our county and then we submit that to the department of public health,” Van Wyk said.

Starkenburg said the O’Brien County office’s allocations from the state also vary and can depend on how many doses are available at the state level. The office still plans to have Moderna doses on hand for those who want it and is set to receive its next shipment of doses next week.

Starkenburg didn’t yet know the future availability of the Pfizer vaccine at the office. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are approved to be administered to those 18 and older, while the Pfizer vaccine is approved for those 12 and older.

In Sioux County, the Pfizer vaccine is available at Hawarden Regional Medical Center and the Hy-Vee pharmacy in Sioux Center.

Nagel anticipated the Avera Rock Rapids clinic would begin receiving Pfizer doses the second week of August. She also guessed that would lead to an uptick in people getting vaccinated, since it would open the eligible pool of vaccine recipients to those 12-17 years old.

Transmission of COVID-19 meanwhile has been ticking up statewide and in N’West Iowa this month after positivity rates reached year-to-date lows in June.

As of Thursday, July 29, the statewide positivity average for tests in the past seven days was 6.6 percent. In Lyon County, it was 4 percent, while O’Brien County was 13 percent, Osceola County was 17 percent and Sioux County was 10 percent.

The predominant strain of the coronavirus in the United States is called the delta variant, which has shown to be more transmissible than previous iterations of the virus.

Van Wyk said the COVID-19 vaccines have proved effective against the delta variant and other strains of the virus and encouraged those who haven’t yet been vaccinated to do so if eligible.