State expands vaccines to Hoosiers 70 and older

The Associated Press/Report for America

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana residents 70 and older can now register to receive coronavirus vaccinations as the state continues to expand access to the shots, the Indiana State Department of Health said Wednesday.

Within five hours of the announcement, nearly 60,000 people aged 70 to 79 had scheduled appointments, said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the state health department’s chief medical officer.

The vaccines became available to Indiana residents 80 and older last Friday following the initial rollout of doses for Indiana health care workers and nursing home residents and staffers in December. About 100,000 Hoosiers in that age group have since scheduled appointments to receive the free COVID-19 vaccines, state officials said.

“It gives us a lot of confidence that the vaccine is getting to where it is intended to be," Gov. Eric Holcomb said during a Wednesday news briefing.

Health officials said last week that they planned to start offering vaccinations in the coming weeks next to those 70 and older and then 60 and older.

Weaver said Wednesday that the state will expand eligibility “as quickly as supplies and resources allow," though Indiana's latest plan strays from the Centers for Disease Control's recent recommendation that states immediately start vaccinating other groups lower down the priority scale, including people age 65 and older and younger people with certain health problems.

“Our goal is to reduce deaths and hospitalizations. And that makes this the right approach,” said the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Kristina Box. “Our system is working and we are going to stick with it."

She continued that, once the the state opens the vaccine to people over the age of 60, the state will have targeted 22.5% of all Hoosiers for the vaccine. That population accounts for 64.1% of COVID-19 hospitalizations and 93.3% of the deaths.

“We are continuing our mission of protecting most vulnerable Hoosiers, and we will continue to expand quickly as we receive additional vaccine,” Box said.

So far, about 220,000 Hoosiers have received their first coronavirus shot, and 40,000 have gotten their second, according to the state's vaccination dashboard, updated Wednesday.

Box said the state is expecting to get more vaccine from the federal government, but cautioned that “we are in a numbers game,” and there still are not enough doses in Indiana to provide vaccine to every Hoosier who wants it.

For now, appointments for those 70 and older can be made at the website or by calling the state’s 2-1-1 telephone assistance service. As of Wednesday morning, 148 vaccination sites were available around the state. All but one of the state’s 92 county health departments has offered a vaccination clinic.

The state health department’s updated weekly tracking map on Wednesday labeled 73 of Indiana’s 92 counties at the highest risk level for coronavirus spread, up from 57 last week. All other counties are in the next-riskiest rating of the four-level system.

The agency has added 420 coronavirus deaths in the past week to the state’s pandemic toll, which has reached nearly 9,200 fatalities including both confirmed and presumed COVID-19 infections.

Indiana’s COVID-19 hospitalizations have fallen below 2,500 as of Tuesday for the first time since early November after the state saw a steep increase beginning in September for coronavirus deaths, hospitalizations and new infections. Those hospitalizations have dropped by about one-fourth since the end of November but remain more than three times greater than before that surge began.

“We continue to see a high positivity rate across the state, and our overall positivity rate remains high,” Box said, also noting that more than 300 people in Indiana are still being hospitalized each day for COVID-19 or related symptoms.

With an additional 3,686 diagnosed cases reported Wednesday, the number of Indiana residents known to have had the coronavirus is now up to 574,119.

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