The Dubuque County Board of Supervisors agreed Monday to vote next week on a proposal by health and Dubuque fire officials to open a drive-through COVID-19 vaccination site in the Port of Dubuque.
The proposal calls for a second county vaccination center to be established in the city, this one at Grand River Center.
Dubuque Fire Chief Rick Steines presented the plan to the Dubuque County Board of Health on March 17, on behalf of the Dubuque County COVID-19 Incident Management Team. The proposal would have the site be primarily operated by qualified City of Dubuque Fire Department staff. Steines said that, if approved, those personnel would be able to administer about 50 vaccinations per hour.
This site would be open in addition to the county’s current point of distribution vaccination site at the former women’s Younkers department store at Kennedy Mall.
The incident management team said it would help them prepare for an increase in vaccine allotment that Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has said she expects in early April.
“We just need to be prepared to expand as we get more vaccinations,” said Dubuque County Emergency Management Director Tom Berger. “Hopefully we could have everything ready that first Monday in April. We might not need it immediately, but it sure would be nice to have it available.”
The Board of Health tabled the proposal last week, due to members’ many lingering questions. The incident management team is compiling answers to those ahead of a special meeting of the Board of Health, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Supervisor Ann McDonough said she favored the proposal, as long as those questions were answered.
“This location at Grand River Center might enhance the reach to underserved communities, a critical piece to making that countywide reach to folks we’ve been fearful are not represented as well,” she said.
The proposal came with a price tag of nearly $89,000, with $65,800 being Dubuque County’s responsibility.
Supervisor Jay Wickham pointed out that most of the county’s cost there would likely be covered.
“The federal government has backed up many if not all of our COVID response so far,” he said. “We have the federal funds to get the vaccinations to our populations as quickly and as professionally as possible.”
Supervisor Harley Pothoff expressed some concern over the cost estimate, but agreed at least to plan the vote next week, pending answers to questions.
“I know we’ll have federal help coming in, but it’s still tax dollars,” he said. “But, a second POD location would definitely extend that arm to the people who are less fortunate.”
Pothoff also said he hoped any new vaccination site would be able to handle more than the 50 per-hour as described in the proposal. He pointed to a recent MercyOne vaccination clinic in Peosta that administered 2,000 doses in 8.5 hours.
During Steines’ presentation to the Board of Health last week, he said that the Dubuque firefighters would serve as the core providers at the proposed site but that the hope was other providers would help bolster their ranks, and thus capacity.
This would mean that the county’s two only semi-permanent vaccination locations would be inside Dubuque city limits.
“This (Grand River Center) would literally be as far east as you could get, you could dip your toes in the Mississippi,” McDonough said.
She asked what the incident management team was doing to bring vaccines west into the rest of the county.
Berger said that while the team was currently focusing on getting another site established in the county’s population center, preliminary plans are being developed for further pop-up vaccination sites in the smaller cities.
The team has ruled out having the county’s volunteer fire departments operate similar sites on a smaller scale, given what they know of those departments’ administrative and membership capacities.
The Dubuque County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to have an evening meeting on Monday, March 29.