UI Health Care delivers message of hope on one-year anniversary of COVID-19 vaccines

Employee receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at UI Hospitals & Clinics

On Dec. 14, 2020, University of Iowa Health Care employees made history, becoming the first in Iowa and among the first in the nation to receive COVID-19 vaccines. This was a day of hope for many and marked a critical turning point in the pandemic.

One year later, we have made significant progress. Iowa’s vaccination efforts, which started with 178 UI Health Care employees on that first day, have since expanded and close to 2 million Iowans have been safely vaccinated. Thousands of lives have been saved and millions have been protected from becoming severely ill from COVID-19.

“There have been many important milestones during the pandemic, and one that sticks out is the first day of vaccinations,” says Suresh Gunasekaran, chief executive officer at UI Hospitals & Clinics. “This was an exciting and joyous day, providing a much-needed spark of hope for our staff during the darkest days of the pandemic. We are thankful and proud that our staff were among the first to receive the vaccine, one of the many ways we have led the way throughout the pandemic.”

By February, after only two months from the vaccines being made available to health care workers, approximately 73% of UI Health Care employees had received the vaccine, and that number has since continued to grow to more than 90%. Soon after, UI Health Care began vaccinating the broader community and has since vaccinated thousands of Iowans, from 65+ years old to as young as 5 years old.

Although Iowa has made significant vaccination progress, and more than 200 million Americans and over 4 billion people across the globe have been safely vaccinated, there are millions who remain unvaccinated or are in need of a booster shot. This has allowed the virus to continue circulating and produce new variants of the original strain, such as delta and omicron, the newest variant of concern.

“The good news is that we have made substantial progress in getting the public vaccinated, so even as new COVID-19 variants arrive, we will not go back to square one,” says Mike Brownlee, chief pharmacy officer at UI Health Care. “Our experts believe it is likely that existing vaccines will continue to be highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalizations from COVID-19, even with the emergence of omicron and other variants.”

The emergence of a new variant is just one more reason why vaccines, boosters, and safety measures such as wearing a mask and keeping six feet apart are so important. If you are currently unvaccinated or eligible for a booster, UI Health Care encourages you to get a vaccine to protect yourself and others.

“The pandemic has served as a powerful reminder of how interconnected we are,” says Gunasekaran. “We must work together as a collective whole to end this pandemic, and we should celebrate how far we have come and how many people have gotten vaccinated this past year to protect themselves and others. Every day, more people decide to get their COVID-19 vaccine, joining the hundreds of millions who have already been safely vaccinated. Each additional person who gets a vaccine brings us one step closer to the end of the pandemic, and that is a very good reason to be hopeful about the future."

UI Health Care encourages those who are already vaccinated to get a booster shot to maximize their immunity against COVID-19 and help prevent the spread of new variants like omicron. The CDC recently expanded booster eligibility and now recommends all vaccinated individuals aged 16 and older receive a booster shot either when they are six months after their initial Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna series or two months after their initial Johnson & Johnson vaccine.