‘Faster immunization, slower spread’: State officials hope for more COVID-19 vaccine to temper pandemic

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS — “Faster immunization, slower spread.”

That’s Indiana’s goal as the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the country.

But getting more immunizations means getting more vaccine—and that supply has been limited. While the state is touting success—about 626,000 Hoosiers vaccinated or scheduled to be vaccinated, according to Holcomb—the state can’t expand vaccination efforts without more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Holcomb, State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver are confident the state has the infrastructure to vaccinate more Hoosiers.

The holdup: getting those additional doses.

“I’m really pleased that our very methodical, under-promise, over-deliver approach [is working], making sure that we’re not over-promising and expectations are in line with what’s occurring,” Holcomb said of the vaccination effort.

“We need more [vaccine],” the governor added.

The state started with just five vaccination sites. Quickly, Indiana offered 55 sites and there are currently 189 sites for vaccination clinics.

But the pressing issue continues to be getting additional doses of the vaccine, with Holcomb describing the allotment as a limiting factor.

The goal is, eventually, to get the shots to 5.4 million Hoosiers. Box said interest in the vaccine is high among Hoosiers, especially those in the older, vulnerable populations.

The state will next expand vaccinations to Hoosiers 65 to 70, although Box couldn’t offer a timeline for the expansion because of the supply concerns.

Indiana learns about its allotment from the federal government on a weekly basis, with the allotment announced on Tuesdays. Indiana is receiving between 78,000 and 80,000 doses of vaccine each week.

That allotment is expected to remain the same for the time being. Weaver said the state learned there was no additional stockpile that would allow Indiana to expand vaccinations in the next week or two.

Because of this reality, there are no plans for mass vaccination clinics. The vaccine will continue to be offered on an appointment-only basis to eligible Hoosiers.

Positivity trend

While COVID-19 raged throughout the state in November and December, there are indications that things are looking slightly better.

Holcomb and Box pointed to the state’s positivity rate, which has steadily declined in the last few weeks. They believe public health measures and getting through the busy holiday season and its many gatherings have helped.

The 10.8% positivity rate is the lowest in several weeks. In addition, COVID-19 hospitalizations and admissions are down.

“[Indiana is] heading in the right direction,” Holcomb said.

Box and Holcomb said the downward trend is also reflective of Hoosiers taking personal responsibility by following health orders, wearing masks, practicing social distancing and prioritizing personal hygiene.

Both also said they will continue to take a “data-driven” approach to managing the pandemic.

All the state’s metric maps are showing improvement due to the dropping positivity rate. State officials stressed that these are encouraging signs but reminded Hoosiers that it’s still too early to read too much into it.

Indiana is also among the top states in administering Eli Lilly’s antibody treatment, which has seen success.

Last week’s map (left) and this week’s map (right)

COVID-19 variants

Box said four cases of the UK COVID-19 variant have been discovered in Indiana. That variant, B117, is a mutation that is more contagious than what has been the predominant strain of COVID-19 in Indiana.

More than 120 cases of the UK variant have been identified in at least 20 states so far.

Box said health officials are also keeping an eye on another variant identified in Africa. It is also highly transmissible and shares similarities with the UK strain.

Vaccine concerns

Box noted a case in Norway in which Norwegians residents died after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. The case remains under investigation and it’s unclear if the vaccine contributed to their deaths.

The state health commissioner said three Hoosiers who received the vaccine had died. She stressed that all three had underlying health conditions that likely contributed to their deaths and pointed out that hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers have received the vaccine with few adverse or severe outcomes.

As of now, there is no way to know if the vaccine played a role in their deaths, Box said.

Vaccine appointments

The state will continue to offer vaccinations on an appointment basis, Weaver said. Appointments for the next few weeks are booked up, but more appointments are added as the state receives additional doses.

Weaver said Hoosiers should continue to check the website and call 211 to check on the availability of appointments.

Because the state is currently 1:1 with the amount of vaccine received and the number of people scheduled to receive a first or second dose, the health department can’t expand the vaccine effort at this time.

“We will expand eligibility as quickly as we can,” Weaver said, adding that the state wants to make sure no doses are wasted.

Aside from rescheduling some appointments early in the vaccine rollout, the state hasn’t had to cancel vaccination appointments due to a lack of supply.

It’s possible, Box said, that the state’s vaccine allotment could increase in early February.

Statehouse closure

Holcomb and State Police Superintendent Doug Carter also addressed the decision to close the Indiana Government Center this week.

The governor erred on the side of caution in the decision and said no progress had been lost on the legislative calendar.

“We know that there were statements about all 50 state capitols on Wednesday and Sunday, and know what had occurred days before that, and we weren’t going to chance it,” Holcomb said of the decision.

There were no issues reported.

Carter said three things guided their thinking: the Christmas Day bombing in downtown Nashville, the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol and this year’s divisive transfer of presidential power.

Carter said the buildings were not fortified and local and federal partners were ready to respond if needed.

March Madness

The state is working closely with the NCAA with March Madness set to be played in its entirety in Indiana.

Box said she’s in constant communication with Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine about the plan.

It’s too early to say if there will be any additional restrictions when the men’s basketball tournament comes to Indiana in March.

Even though current trends are looking good for the state when it comes to the pandemic, Box said that could change quickly and affect things like the size of crowds allowed into games.

“We are all working together and very happy to welcome the NCAA to Indiana,” Box said.

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