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Iowa hits one year anniversary of the COVID-19 vaccine as hospitalizations continue to trend upward

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics received its first shipment of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 14.
The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics received its first shipment of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccines on Dec. 14, 2020.

Tuesday marks one year since the first group of Iowans were vaccinated against COVID-19.

The state hits the milestone as Iowa continues to experience record high COVID-19 hospitalizations for this year. The majority of those hospitalized are unvaccinated.

State health officials announced Monday that 816 Iowans are hospitalized with the virus, the highest number so far for 2021.

Mike Brownlee, the chief pharmacy officer with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, said the vaccine didn’t bring the pandemic to an end within months as experts initially anticipated — and one reason is the low vaccination rate, along with the emergence of the highly-transmittable delta variant.

"When we talk about having us get out of this pandemic, we need those and continue to encourage those that are unvaccinated to receive the vaccine," he said, "and that will help our health care workers tremendously."

Brownlee said the state is seeing lower vaccination rates in those under 50, and said there's still a lot of work to be done to target groups that are hesitant about getting the vaccine.

"That's probably been the biggest challenge is where do you go to find accurate information about the vaccine? How it can protect you?" he said. "What about its safety, and the circulation of inaccurate information — I think has really been one of the biggest barriers."

The Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines last December. The Pfizer vaccine was initially authorized for people 16 and older, and the Moderna vaccine was also authorized for those 16 and older.

The first group of Iowans to receive the vaccine were health care workers and long term care facility residents and staff.

In the past year, the FDA has authorized emergency use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, and extended Pfizer's emergency use authorization to kids as young as five years old.

In August, the FDA granted full approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for those 16 and older.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 67 percent of Iowans 12 and older and 58 percent of all Iowans have been fully vaccinated.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter