Indiana expands vaccine eligibility for more Hoosiers with high-risk conditions

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INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana expanded eligibility Tuesday for the COVID-19 vaccine to additional Hoosiers considered at highest risk for severe illness associated with the coronavirus.

State officials explained more on updated eligibility, including opening vaccine appointments statewide to educators and support staff, during a weekly press conference held on Wednesday.

Dr. Lindsay Weaver, Indiana State Department of Health chief medical officer, said Hoosiers with high-risk conditions now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine will be sent a unique registration link from ISDH to sign up.

This week alone, Dr. Weaver said the state sent more than 31,000 messages to individuals at “significant risk” for COVID-19.

“It is really important to us that these vulnerable Hoosiers are able to get in and get vaccinated,” said Dr. Weaver.

Dr. Weaver said if you believe yourself or a loved one qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine, you should reach out to your provider to ensure they submit your information.

“After the information is submitted, it does take 24 to 48 hours before you are notified,” said Dr. Weaver. “Please be patient as providers across the state work to identify their appropriate patients.”

Additional high-risk conditions added by ISDH to the COVID-19 vaccine eligibility include:

  • Individuals who require supplemental oxygen and/or tracheostomy
  • Individuals with pulmonary fibrosis, Alpha-1 Antitrypsin
  • Individuals who are in an immunocompromised state from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, combined primary immunodeficiency disorder, HIV, daily use of corticosteroids, use of other immune weakening medicines, are receiving tumor necrosis factor-alpha blockers or rituximab.
  • Intellectually or developmentally disabled individuals receiving home or community-based services
  • Early childhood conditions that are carried into adulthood, including Cystic Fibrosis, Muscular Dystrophy, people born with severe heart defects requiring specialized medical care, people with Phenylketonuria (PKU), Tay-Sachs, or other rare, inherited metabolic disorders. Other early childhood conditions continuing through adulthood include epilepsy with continuing seizures, hydrocephaly, microcephaly and other severe neurologic disorders, Alpha and beta thalassemia, spina bifida and cerebral palsy. Individuals with severe asthma or severe type 1 diabetes, but only those who have been hospitalized over the past year, are also eligible.

“We have clinical evidence that we have shared with the Centers for Disease Control showing that people with type 1 diabetes are at increased risk,” said Gary Dougherty, director of state government affairs at the American Diabetes Association “To just single out those who have been hospitalized is really unfair, so we are urging the CDC to change their guidance, as well as governors.”

Dougherty said the American Diabetes Association has been in contact with Gov. Holcomb asking him to equalize prioritization between type 1 and type 2.

“We have sent nearly 200 letters from advocates across Indiana to Governor Holcomb,” he said. “We are hoping by hearing from constituents and that clinical evidence we provided, that the decision will be changed and that types 1 and 2 will get access to the vaccine as quickly as possible.”

Dr. Weaver said Wednesday, “I promise we will push, and we’re gonna keep on going as fast as we get vaccine available.”

“I think largely I would say that the vaccination strategy is working,” said Dr. Brian Dixon, director of public health informatics at the Regenstrief Institute.

“When we look at the ages of the people who are newly infected cases, they’re below 60 years of age,” said Dr. Dixon. “In some counties last week, there was no one over the age of 80 that was found positive, right, so that would be a very good indication that the vaccines are working.”

He said the majority of new cases are being driven by adolescents, young adults and middle-aged adults and “really by those people not yet eligible for the vaccines.”

Dr. Dixon also said the trend in decreasing cases began after the holidays, so it cannot be fully attributable to the vaccine rollout.

Dr. Dixon said a panel of experts in Indiana are evaluating the best available evidence and studies that come out each day to see which populations have fared worse in the hospital or are more prone to death.

“Our vaccine advisory committee, made of up infectious disease experts, pulmonologists and other medical experts, has been looking at a number of comorbidities, including diabetes, that could put people at higher risk of death as part of discussions about vaccine eligibility. As more vaccine has become available, we have been able to expand eligibility,” a spokesperson for ISDH said.

ISDH told FOX59 those discussions are ongoing and decisions will be based on vaccine allocations.

According to Dr. Dixon, data shows globally, diabetes, congestive heart failure, hypertension, COPD are some conditions that would put patients at higher risk, however “the hard part is those comorbidities are often found in older populations, so it’s really hard to say is it diabetes that made him high risk for hospitalization, or the fact he was 69,” he said.

Dr. Dixon said there are also studies that show certain other factors like a person who has a history of smoking could be more high at risk for hospitalization if they contract COVID.

“When we find some of those relationships and evidence, that’s helping to drive some of the decisions the panel is making,” said Dr. Dixon. “They’re constantly looking at that data, meeting every week to make those determinations.

“Research that we’ve done in Indiana has shown that if you are a smoker and you do get COVID-19, you’re at higher risk for poor outcomes if you get to the hospital.”

“We’ve also seen that some people who are smokers, they were infected, but they didn’t end up getting hospitalized,” Dr. Dixon said. He also noted some didn’t even become infected when exposed.

Right now, the state has not mentioned whether smokers will be given vaccine priority eligibility in any future rollout plans.

Moving forward as the state works to vaccinate more people, Dr. Dixon said he predicts the state will continue expanding eligibility as quickly as they can.

“I would expect every single week we will see an expanded eligibility criteria because they want to make sure that every single available appointment for vaccine is filled,” said Dr. Dixon. “In fact, the projections now show that by summer, there will be sort of a surplus of vaccines.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, 1,178,265 Hoosiers had received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, with 744,712 fully vaccinated.

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