Who gets the COVID-19 vaccine first and why?

As the exciting news of vaccine developments continue to fill the headlines, UI Health Care is committed to:

  • Vaccinating all our employees (who want to be vaccinated), as part of health care personnel being prioritized by national and state vaccine distribution guidelines.
  • Continuing to communicate and be transparent through this process, which we know will be complex and long due to the limited number of doses that are initially available.

As we confirm our vaccination plans, we are following Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) guidelines for prioritization within UI Health Care. We seek to be fair and consistent in the distribution of the vaccine. The plan must balance maintaining clinical operations, distribution logistics, and access across departments.

But what does this mean for UI Health Care, considering we have more than 16,000 paid employees that fall into this wide “health care worker” category? When we say UI Health Care employees, we mean all paid employees: clinical and non-clinical faculty, residents and fellows, non-physician providers, nurses, clinical and non-clinical support staff, administrative and research staff.  In short, it means all of us.

A phased approach

We’ve adopted a phased approach to our vaccination process to allow us to quickly and safely use each dose we’re allocated.

Phase 1

In Phase 1, we have focused on UI Health Care Employees in the following areas:

  1. Areas delivering care to the most patients with COVID-19 in the inpatient and outpatient setting.
  2. Areas that provide support to the areas identified above.
  3. High-risk congregate settings in our inpatient environment.
  4. Areas that are handling and managing COVID-19 materials.
  5. Essential leadership roles critical to our ongoing emergency response.

Phase 2

Phase 2 includes UI Health Care main campus clinical and ancillary staff, and the remainder of providers. This includes faculty, APPs, residents and fellows, main campus clinical care employees, and main campus ancillary and clinical support services employees.

Phase 3

Phase 3 includes off-campus clinical and ancillary employees.

Phase 4

Phase 4 includes all other UI Health Care employees, including administrative and non-patient care employees, research and education, and temporary and student employees with UI Health Care appointments.

Why did we create the phases this way?

Our phases are based on recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). Our own ethics team was also involved in the decision-making process.

There are also significant logistical challenges beyond the initial limited number of doses available to us that also influence how we organize this process. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures. We planned months ago for this requirement and have the necessary freezer to store the vaccine, but this is only available on the main campus, and the vaccines can’t be “re-frozen,” making waste a real possibility if vaccination is done at off site areas. Also, the scheduling logistics for more than 16,000 employees, with two doses per person, makes ensuring efficient vaccination also extremely challenging. Be assured that we have a good plan, but it will require all of us to be in this together to accomplish this.

How long will it take?

It could take many months to complete vaccinations of all our employees—the largest factor is how many doses we receive. Patience will be required and appreciated.

We know that you will have questions. You can view more resources, including frequently asked questions, on our COVID-19 vaccine information for employees page here.


  1. Will each phase need to be completed with first and second doses before moving to the next; and will employees know when a new phase has started?

    • Chariti, There will be an employee forum at noon on Monday to talk about the vaccines. I added your question to the list.

  2. I am a UIHC employee. Is the University considering those who are Immune Compromised to be vaccinated prior to everyone else excluding healthcare workers who need it first obviously? I don’t want to cut in front of anyone, but I was just curious on the answer to this question. I AM immuno-compromised also which is why I am asking this question.
    Thank you,

  3. The question has come up about if you will have to have a COVID-19 test if you have been vaccinated now and in the future, for a pre-procedure? I am curious about this myself. Anyone have an answer? 🙂

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