The end is in sight, but we’re not there yet. We have the opportunity to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, but we need more people to get vaccinated as soon as they can.

Every Iowan age 16 and older is now eligible to be vaccinated and COVID-19 vaccines are widely available.

There are 26 vaccine providers in Dubuque County and there is no cost to residents to be vaccinated. All available COVID-19 vaccines effectively prevent infection, illness, and death from COVID-19. For details on getting vaccinated, including links to all Dubuque County providers, visit www.dubuquecounty.org/sleevesup. Or, if you would like assistance in making a vaccination appointment, call the Dubuque County Sleeves Up! Call Center at 563.690.MAKE(6253) to talk to a local “vaccine navigator.”

Over the last month, we’ve seen the number of new cases of COVID-19 trending up again, as well as active cases and positivity rates. Of even greater concern is the increasing number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 virus variants in our county and state. The B.1.1.7 variant is now the dominant strain and is believed to be even more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain and is causing more serious illnesses, including among young people. The P.1 variant has also now surfaced in Iowa. This variant is also referred to as the Brazilian variant. We are still learning about the characteristics of this strain including any potential impact on vaccine effectiveness.

As of April 15, 2021, over 198 million doses of these vaccines were given to Americans, including almost 2 million doses to Iowans. This is great, but this is not enough. As of April 15, less than 30% of Dubuque County residents were fully vaccinated. That’s not enough to end the pandemic and safely get back to normal.

That’s not enough to safely enjoy summer sports, festivals, reunions, and other celebrations. That’s not enough to stop wearing a mask or social distancing.

The sooner enough Dubuque County residents are fully vaccinated, the sooner we can begin doing and enjoying all the things we miss, safely. If you have not yet been vaccinated and you are age 16 and older, it’s your turn now and you can feel confident that getting vaccinated is safe and effective.

Even if you are one of the more than 13,000 Dubuque County residents who had COVID, you still need to be vaccinated.

Not enough is yet known about how long immunity from the natural COVID-19 illness might last and protect you from becoming re-infected and spreading the illness to others. For that reason, vaccination is an important step to protect yourself and those around you.

If you are concerned about the safety of the vaccines, given their rapid development, please know that the FDA approves a vaccine for use only if it is proven safe and effective after clinical trials have been conducted with thousands of people, and when its benefits outweigh any risks. The COVID-19 vaccine builds on years of scientific research and an unprecedented level of scientific investment and cooperation.

If you’re one of the more than 30,000 county residents already vaccinated, remember you are considered fully vaccinated for COVID-19 two weeks after you have received the second dose in a two-dose series (Pfizer or Moderna) or two weeks after you have received a single-dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson). While all three vaccines are highly effective, no vaccine provides 100% immunity, and vaccine breakthroughs may occur, so fully vaccinated individuals should continue to take precautions in public and when around unvaccinated people.

On behalf of the Dubuque County Public Health Incident Management Team, I want to thank everyone who has done their part to limit the spread and protect our communities. I know you are tired of wearing a mask, social distancing, and other disruptions to our lives over the last 14-plus months. We’ve come this far and now we need to end this pandemic by getting vaccinated to protect ourselves, our families and our communities.