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Thousands of Iowa's Long Term Care Residents And Staff Get First Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine

Arbor Springs
A resident of Arbor Springs nursing home in West Des Moines gets the Pfizer COVID-10 vaccine on Dec. 28.

Residents and staff members at the state’s 700 long term care facilities are expected to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination this week through the federal partnership with chain pharmacies.

Thousands of residents and staff members at the state’s long term care facilities are expected to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination by the end of this week.

Brent Willett, the president and CEO of the Iowa Health Care Association, which represents many of the state's nursing homes, said around 25 percent of the state's 258 assisted living facilities and 445 nursing homes are expected to get their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of this week.

“This is a, you know, really monumental step in this fight over the last 10 months that's been been pretty bereft of any kind of positive news. So folks are feeling really, really good about it," Willett said.

The pandemic has hit the state’s long term care facilities particularly hard. As of Tuesday afternoon, 1,138 deaths have been attributed to the state's long-term care facilities, nearly 30 percent of Iowa’s total COVID-19 deaths.

The state is reporting 115 facilities currently have a COVID-19 outbreak, defined as three or more residents — not including staff members — who have tested positive for the virus.

One of the first facilities to get vaccinated on Monday was the Arbor Springs nursing home in West Des Moines, which specializes in patients with dementia-related diseases.

Nick Olmstead, the facility's director of marketing, said CVS employees came Monday morning and vaccinated most staff members and all but one of their 54 residents. He said that one resident did not get the consent form signed in time and is expected to be vaccinated when the pharmacy employees return to give second doses on Jan. 18.

Olmstead, who is also a nurse, said the experience was "very exciting."

"I felt great, you know, it just feels like a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Olmstead said Arbor Springs experienced a COVID-19 outbreak last summer, which several residents died from.

He said the pandemic has been really tough on the staff and residents at the nursing home, which has had to severely restrict visitors for months.

“To not be able to bring anyone in to see the rooms that they have to admit their loved ones to is tough, not to mention how incredibly hard it is on on the families to not be able to come in and see their loved ones," Olmstead said.

Willett said it's unlikely the vaccine will allow visitor restrictions to loosen up, pointing to the fact that community transmission of the virus is still widespread in Iowa.

"Until community spread declines, we're not going to be able to see families reunited with their loved ones, whether they're vaccinated or not. The regulation remains," he said, referring to the guidance put out by the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, which oversee the nation's nursing homes.

Willett said the Iowa Health Care Association has been providing information about the vaccine to nursing home staff members, who have had concerns or trepidations about taking the vaccine.

He said it's important many people get vaccinated.

“If we don't take it, and we don't ultimately achieve herd immunity, we're never going to get rid of this thing," he said. "And so it's vitally important that we work within our community to make folks more comfortable with the vaccine.”