GCPH announces results of vaccine campaign

An eight week effort to focus on the COVID-19 vaccine’s role in reducing illness and hospitalization has concluded, and officials with Grundy County Public Health (GCPH) are pleased to see that the county’s vaccine rate has increased.

The “Team Up Against COVID-19” campaign wrapped up with a series of cash prize drawings including a grand prize of $500 and eight more prizes of $250 that were selected weekly beginning in August.

“Each of our prize winners were excited to win and also had a story to share of why it was important to them to be vaccinated,” Grundy County Public Health Program Coordinator Katie Thornton-Lang, MAE said. “We’re very pleased that Grundy County is much closer to 70 percent of the eligible population being vaccinated than we were at the start of the summer.”

The latest data from the Iowa Department of Public Health shows that 68.9% of Grundy County residents 12 and over have at least one of the two-vaccine series, or have taken the one-shot vaccine.

Close to 450 names were entered into the weekly drawings, and Valorie Hansen of Holland was the grand prize winner of $500.

Grundy County Board of Health member Lexie Hach, MA said that the public health agency recognized that a new approach was needed when vaccination rates slowed in early summer. “Our public health partners in the urban counties were trying a different approach to increase vaccination rates and we reached out to learn more and determine whether an incentive program could be adapted to fit the needs of Grundy County,” Hach said. “From there the Team Up Against COVID-19 effort took off, and the community has been very receptive.”

Grundy County’s effort encouraged all residents who received the vaccine since it was first available last December to sign up for the weekly drawings. The county also offered pop-up vaccine sites at the County Fair and communities without permanent vaccine administration sites in order to publicize the vaccine’s effectiveness and encourage more people to receive it.

While the vaccine incentive program has concluded, GCPH is still managing the county’s COVID-19 vaccination effort, which includes ordering supply and allocating resources among the four vaccine sites in the county.

Thornton-Lang said they will also be involved in procuring boosters for those who are eligible, and will be prepared to assist with vaccine supply for children 5-11, once a vaccine is approved for that age group.

She said that Grundy County residents may continue to look to their local pharmacy or medical clinic for vaccination guidance, including information about booster eligibility, while Public Health will continue its role of education and information concerning the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s rewarding to have launched a vaccine incentive program for Grundy County residents,” Thornton-Lang said. “As interest in the vaccine paused in mid-summer, the announcement of prize drawings for all who’ve received the vaccine served to propel interest. The public health outreach, along with news of the contagious COVID-19 variants, may have combined to spur more than 350 new vaccinations since mid-summer.”

The county applied and received a Disease Prevention Grant in order to provide the incentives. “It’s clear that every person who is protected with a vaccine is one fewer county resident

who may end up seriously ill or hospitalized,” Thornton-Lang said.

Within the county, illness and hospitalizations for COVID-19 have been on a steady increase since August 1 as the more contagious Delta variant has impacted the population. Grundy County Memorial Hospital – UnityPoint Health says 86 percent of those hospitalized locally have been unvaccinated, which follows the national data on hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

“We’ve taken steps to bring traveling nurses onto our nursing team in order to help sustain our current staff members. We’re prepared for those who may need us even as we encourage people who are not yet vaccinated to take advantage of the vaccine to prevent serious illness,” said Jody Schipper, MSN, Director of Clinical Services at the hospital.

The hospital continues to treat COVID-19 patients who have been prescribed infusions on an outpatient basis, and is navigating the shortage of certain COVID-19 treatments with support from the UnityPoint Health supply chain.

“Grundy County’s vaccination rate is among the highest for rural counties in the state,” Hach said. “It’s very satisfying to know that the Public Health Department has worked so hard to encourage the vaccine, and was willing to take on a new project. The incentive program was not something that a local public health department would normally do. So thank you to Katie and Michelle VanDeest as the county’s two health department employees for trying something different. This is an unprecedented time in public health, and when one tactic is not working, it’s important to think differently and try something new. They’ve shown their dedication to Grundy County’s health and safety with their continued efforts.”

COVID-19 resources and complete information on the county’s Team Up Against COVID-19 program, including a list of winners, may be found at the health department’s webpage: https://tinyurl.com/38ffnwwz