The Indiana State Dept. of Health announced March 3 that Hoosiers 50 and older are now eligible to receive a free COVID-19 vaccine.
The state’s decision to open eligibility to more Indiana residents came days before a solemn milestone: On March 6, 2020, the state identified its first confirmed case of COVID-19.
“Yes, we have been through a lot together, and we are going to get out of this together,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said during a March 3 virtual press briefing. “We are pointed in that direction.”
Due to limited vaccine allotments, Indiana has prioritized health care workers, long-term care residents, first responders and residents with specific comorbidities in its vaccination rollout. Hoosiers 50 and older account for more than 35.3 percent of the state’s population, yet they represent 80 percent of statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations and 97.6 percent of statewide COVID-19 deaths.
According to the ISDH, residents ages 50 to 59 are 30 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than people 20 to 29 and are four times more likely to be hospitalized.
State health officials said they plan to continue using an age-based approach and will vaccinate Hoosiers 40 and older incrementally when supply allows. Hoosiers with additional comorbidities not currently eligible also will be part of the next eligible group.
Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said that vaccine eligibility could be extended to people 40 and older as by mid-March, depending on supplies.
Residents 40- to 49 are at a three times higher risk of developing a severe illness compared to Indiana residents ages 20-29, according to the ISDH. Indiana residents 40 and older account for 91 percent of Hoosiers with comorbidities and more than 50 percent of teachers.
On March 2, 82,000 Hoosiers ages 55 to 59 scheduled a vaccination appointment, Holcomb said. As of March 3, 70 percent of Hoosiers 80 and older had been vaccinated or were scheduled to get a vaccination. The same is true for 71 percent of Hoosiers ages 70 to 79, 56 percent ages 60 to 69 and 28 percent of ages 55 to 59.
Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the ISDH’s chief medical officer, said Indiana’s initial allotment of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine made mass vaccination sites more feasible in Indiana because the vaccine requires one shot. Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines require two shots. State health officials reported March 3 Indiana would not receive another shipment of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines for at least three weeks.
State officials encourage residents to take advantage of one of three mass vaccination clinics across the state, with another possible mass vaccination site pending final confirmation. Locally, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s mass vaccination site will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. March 5-7 at 4790 W. 16th Street, in Indianapolis.
State health officials estimate they can vaccinate as many as 4,200 residents daily each day at the mass vaccination sites.
To schedule a vaccine appointment, visit ourshot.in.gov and select a location from one of nearly 390 clinics around the state. Hoosiers who do not have a computer or cell phone or those who need assistance scheduling an appointment can call 2-1-1 or contact one of Indiana’s Area Agencies on Aging or AARP. Nearly 70 libraries around the state also are helping Hoosiers schedule appointments.
Vaccination clinics that are part of the federal vaccine program, including those at Meijer and Kroger, appear on the clinic map at ourshot.in.gov but are scheduled through those retailers’ platforms, not through the state’s centralized system.
As of March 3, 1,031,266 individuals had received a first dose of vaccine in Indiana and 608,638 were fully vaccinated. Although residents are being vaccinated at a faster rate due to increased allotments, state officials caution the pandemic is far from over.
“We will also be reminded that pandemics are hard to defeat, that viruses mutate and present many challenges just when we think the worst is behind us, and that even positive trends like those that we have seen in recent weeks don’t signal that we’re out of the woods and that life could return to pre-pandemic normalcy,” Box said. “But there are a lot of positive trends to celebrate.”
President Joe Biden’s administration signaled it will require states to give all teachers a vaccine by the end of this month, but Indiana officials said they are still assessing the details the federal government’s plan.
“We received word from the federal government that they were going to provide doses to the federal pharmacy program for teachers to become prioritized across the country, obviously including here in the state of Indiana,” Holcomb said. “What that means now, the federal government will fold in their doses, their appointment regimen and scheduling process at Meijer, at Kroger, at Walmart.”
The move would allow teachers of all ages to be vaccinated. Holcomb asked for “patience” as the state worked to get “more answers on the volume of doses we will be receiving from the federal government.”
As of press time, it was not clear when all teachers would be eligible to schedule a vaccination appointment.