Demand for vaccines picks up after slow and quiet spring

Erin James

Washington County Public Health Nurse
Erin James Washington County Public Health Nurse

Public health officials in southeast Iowa find themselves busy administering vaccines when just a few months ago they had dramatically scaled back the service.

Erin James, Washington County Public Health nurse, said her office stopped giving vaccines when the pandemic hit in March.

“We went on a two-week hiatus where we didn’t do anything, because nobody knew what we should be doing,” James said.

Later, when more guidelines were published saying it was safe to administer routine vaccines, Washington County began seeing patients again, with a few changes. James said her office now schedules immunization appointments in 30-minute increments instead of 15, not because they take longer but because public health wants to avoid multiple families coming in contact with each other in the waiting room.

James said public health has been “swamped” with immunization appointments the last 2½ months because so many people were playing catch up after having delayed their vaccines at the start of the pandemic.

Jefferson County Public Health Administrator Chris Estle said her office restarted its immunization program in June and has been busy lately, with all clinic appointments having been filled in the last three weeks. Estle said appointments are now required, whereas before walk-ins were allowed.

“This allows for extra cleaning time and time between appointments,” Estle said.

Jefferson County Public Health requires that children over the age of 2 wear a face covering, and that only one parent is allowed to accompany a child.

Robin Poole, immunization coordinator for Henry County Public Health, said her office never stopped offering vaccines during the pandemic, but it did reduce the days the public could receive them from three days per week to once a week. Henry County Public Health is now back to offering vaccines three days per week – Tuesday mornings from 9-11 a.m., Wednesday and Thursday afternoons from 1-4 p.m., and every first and third Thursday until 6 p.m.

Poole said her office always sees a glut of children come in for vaccines just before school starts.

“We see kids all the time, and we always encourage them not to wait until August,” she said.

Iowa requires children going into certain grades to have a series of vaccines, and this applies to kindergartners, seventh-graders and 12th-graders. For instance, kindergartners need to show they have received a series of shots for DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), polio and chicken pox. Seventh-graders need a vaccine for meningitis, and seniors need a meningitis booster.

Infants typically receive vaccines at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.

Poole said she encourages the public to get an annual flu shot this fall. Her office already has some of it to offer and expects to get more within the week.

“The flu tends to hit us here in the winter,” she said. “Last year, it was earlier than normal. It takes the body 10-14 days to build antibodies to the flu vaccine, so if you wait too long to take it, the vaccine may not help you.”

Poole said flu season peaks in February and then starts to drop off by the end of March and into April.