Questions remain about Indiana's vaccine doses

By CASEY SMITH
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — As Indiana's front-line health care workers begin receiving the state's first shots of Pfizer's vaccine against COVID-19, uncertainties remain about future numbers of incoming doses and who should be inoculated next, health officials said Wednesday.

Five Indiana hospitals have received doses, Indiana’s chief medical officer, Dr. Lindsay Weaver, said during Gov. Eric Holcomb’s weekly briefing on the state’s coronavirus response.

So far, 46,000 of the state’s more than 400,000 eligible health care workers have registered for an appointment to get their first shot, Weaver said. Health care workers at Parkview Health in Fort Wayne received the state’s inaugural doses on Monday. Members of the medical staff at IU Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis became the first in central Indiana to get vaccinated Wednesday morning.

While front-line health care personnel — including those in hospitals, long-term care facilities and emergency medical service providers — are first-up to get the shots in Indiana, Weaver asked other residents to “please be patient — your turn is coming as more vaccine arise."

This week, Indiana was allocated 55,575 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which health officials said they expect to make available at an additional 50 hospitals and clinics around the state in a matter of days.

But exactly how much more vaccine the state can dole out in the coming weeks is still unclear. Weaver said the state found out Wednesday that number of new doses coming in next week is already less than originally anticipated.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation, and it’s why we have focused our initial vaccination efforts on front-line health care workers and long-term care facilities," Weaver said." As more vaccine becomes available, we will continue to roll out eligibility to additional populations.”

Weaver added that state health officials are considering individuals’ risks of spreading COVID-19 and how bad their symptoms could be as they decide the next distribution lineup.

Indiana’s original vaccination plan, submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October, indicated that vulnerable populations would be next in line for the vaccine. Weaver said earlier this month, however, that recent discussions have focused on prioritizing essential workers ahead of those in the vulnerable group.

The Indiana State Health Department is also crafting a public-facing data dashboard to track how many people have been vaccinated across the state, Weaver said. The dashboard is expected to launch within the next few weeks.

State health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box further noted that while the new vaccine “is the light at the end of the tunnel, we are still in the tunnel.”

None of Indiana's 92 counties were recording below 200 cases per 100,000 residents as of Wednesday, Box said, noting that only three counties were even below 400 cases per 100,000 residents. An additional 125 COVID-19 deaths were reported by the Indiana State Department of Health Wednesday, pushing the state’s pandemic death toll past 7,000.

The department’s daily statistics update also showed that an additional 6,283 residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19, bringing the total known number of cases in the state to 440,850.

With there still being “a number of months” before the vaccine will be available to every resident, Box said mask-wearing, social-distancing and staying home when sick remain critical.

As the holidays near, Box emphasized that the lowest-risk activities are those held online or with members of one household. The risk increases anytime people are exposed to others outside of their immediate household.

“I know this guidance is hard and yet another reminder of all that we have sacrificed in 2020,” Box said. “I truly believe that 2021 will be better.”

Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.




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