Hamilton County health officials say they are ready to begin giving COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as they receive them, which should be 24 to 48 hours after emergency-use authorization is granted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That authorization could come as early as Dec. 10 for a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech SE.
Hamilton County Health Dept. Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Christian Walker said he doesn’t know how many doses the county will initially receive, although the State of Indiana is expecting more than 55,000 doses in its first shipment.
Walker said three hospitals in the county have been selected to receive the first doses of the vaccine and begin providing them onsite to healthcare workers who work directly with COVID-19 patients, the first group eligible to receive them.
IU Health North Hospital in Carmel will be among the first sites to receive and administer the vaccine in Indiana. Melissa Hicks, nursing executive for IU Health’s Indianapolis Suburban Region, said the hospital will set up a clinic for its workers and those from other healthcare facilities to receive the vaccine. She said the state will contact top priority healthcare workers who live in Hamilton County by email to schedule a visit to the clinic.
Another group to be among the first to receive the vaccine will be residents in nursing homes and assisted living centers. Walker said federal and state officials are working with CVS and Walgreen’s to provide vaccines for this group.
The next group in line to receive vaccines is essential workers, although how that will be defined and ordered is still to be determined, Walker said.
Walker said members of the general public will likely be able to begin receiving the vaccine in mid- to late summer 2021. He is hopeful that children will be eligible to receive the vaccine at that time in advance of the 2021-22 school year starting. Clinical trials of the vaccine have not yet been completed for children.
As the vaccine becomes more widely available, Walker said he expects any healthcare facility that has experience giving vaccines should be able to provide it.
“The more people we can get administering the vaccine the faster we can get people vaccinated, so nothing is off the table when it comes to getting creative,” he said. “The big thing is maintaining safety and maintaining the security of the vaccine so we know it’s being handled safely and properly.”
The vaccine, which is given in two doses, can cause COVID-19-like side effects in the 12 to 24 hours after it is given, with symptoms often worse after the second dose. Side effects include headache, fever, chills, cough and sore throat. Hicks said IU Health has encouraged its staff members to get the vaccine before they have a day or two off of work to more easily manage potential side effects.
Walker said a “huge concern” for the health department is ensuring that people return for their second dose.
“These shots are a two-shot series for a reason. That’s how you get your maximum effective dose,” Walker said. “You may receive some protection from the first dose, but you’re still not safeguarding yourself fully until you get that second dose.”