Monday was the first day that Hoosiers age 30 and older were able to schedule a free COVID-19 vaccine through the Indiana State Department of Health, and nearly 79,000 Hoosiers ages 30 to 39 signed up on their first day of their eligibility.
According to the ISDH, this expansion of eligibility makes the vaccine available to more than 840,000 Indiana residents. Beginning Wednesday, the vaccine will become available for those age 16 and older in Indiana.
“They phased it,” Clinton County Health Department Administrator Rodney Wann said of the state rapidly opening vaccine availability. “That will take stress off the system a little bit. It doesn’t change the overall outcome that it will be 16 and older by March 31 (which Governor Holcomb had announced earlier).”
Governor Holcomb has also announced that the state’s mask mandate would be dropped on April 6 – an announcement that was celebrated by some while raising concerns in others. Holcomb added that local officials will still have the authority to impose stricter restrictions, and face masks will still be required in K-12 schools for the rest of this school year.
“I would rather them put some distance between opening it up and dropping the mask mandate, but that was their decision,” Wann said. “We are nowhere near (herd) immunity at this point, so it has accelerated concern. Of course, the federal government is promising that those doses will be here soon. As long as we don’t see a supply chain problem, we may have an opportunity to get everyone vaccinated.
“These younger age groups may not be as interested in getting the vaccine either,” Wann added. “At some point, there will be a drop-off (in vaccinations). We are just not sure when. A drop-off in people wanting the vaccine and days where appointments are filled will start to drop off. We hope that is not true, but we anticipate it. At some point, we are going to reach an equilibrium where only those who are going to get vaccinated (are vaccinated). We will see what happens to the community spread at that point.
“I think we are going to see a lot of restrictions rolled back because people are tired,” he added. “From a political standpoint, people want to see things change back to normal. The public health challenge right now is to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
The governor’s lifting of the mask mandate approaches as the state has seen an upward trend of daily confirmed cases since mid-March, and many residents are away on spring break vacations.
“We went way down, but we have seen case counts go up again,” Wann said. “Locally, we are seeing some positive cases, but testing is tailing off, so it may not be as representative right now. I don’t know how many people are being told by their work to get tested. We hope everybody is, but we are not sure.
“I would say we reached a plateau in Indiana, and we are starting to see cases perhaps go up,” he added. “Remember that this is spring break month, and it is usually two weeks after that we start to see cases. Mid-April will be when we see if we had a spring break effect or not.”
Whether there is a noticeable effect due to the relaxing of guidelines and increased travel, Wann says that the Clinton County Health Department and its volunteers will be in a “dogfight” until at least the middle of the summer.
“We are hearing from the state to hang in there about six more weeks because they feel we will have enough immunized by then that the remainder of the vaccinations can be assimilated into the normal vaccination process,” he said. “I think that is a little soon, but I am still encouraged at the idea that they are putting some sort of goal on it. They think that six weeks from now enough will be vaccinated that we can go into a normal process whatever that may be.”
Meanwhile, studies are still being conducted on to what extent, if any, vaccinated people can transmit the virus, how long vaccination is effective, and on how safe vaccines are for children.
“They are still studying those effects during these tests,” Wann said. “I am certain they are still running antibody tests on the original clinical trial folks. We want to know how long this immunity will last and that is how you answer that question.
“We are looking at an August timeframe for clinical trials of school-aged children,” he added. “There may be a break in the vaccination process, but there may be an additional need for clinics in the fall. I am not certain. When you talk about children not being as affected or spreading it as much, and why vaccinate children then, I think when we talk about herd resistance and immunity, we have to think about all the kids, too. I am certain that a certain number of parents will want to, and we encourage it.”
Wann says that, unless they accelerate those trials, we will probably not hear those results until the first quarter of 2022.
“We know that Rutgers University will require students to have vaccinations before they return to school (in August),” Wann said. “We do not know how that trend will grow before it is all over.”
Wann says that the Clinton County Health Department will continue to need volunteers as they receive more doses each week.
“Folks realize that we are doing everything we can to bring additional doses to the community,” Wann said. “Volunteers are the key. We are looking to expand in the month of April, and we will need twice as many vaccinators than we have currently to be able to do that. That will determine how many we can get vaccinated in the community. We are interested in getting more volunteers in the month of April when we expand.”
“We are using about 10 nursing-type volunteers per day, and we are going to need 20 in the coming weeks. We are going to need twice as many. We are looking to go from 800 doses a week up to 1,400 in the next couple weeks.”
Those interested in volunteering may go to https://serv-in.org.
To schedule a vaccine, visit https://ourshot.in.gov and select a location from one of more than 530 clinics around the state. Hoosiers who do not have a computer or cell phone or those who need assistance scheduling an appointment can call 211 or contact one of Indiana’s Area Agencies on Aging or AARP. Nearly 70 libraries around the state also are helping Hoosiers schedule their appointments.