INDIANAPOLS — Hoosier seniors made their desire for the COVID-19 vaccine clear, with 59,723 people registering within hours after the state opened eligibility up Wednesday morning to those 70 and older.
“You could imagine it’s almost like a gold rush but it’s a vaccine rush,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday. “It gives us a lot of confidence that the vaccine is getting in the arms of those who are most at risk.”
Hoosiers 70 and older represent just 12% of the population but make up 42% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 and 80% of the state’s deaths. More than 200,000 had received the first of two doses and nearly 455,000 more are expected to be inoculated by the end of the month.
The next stage of vaccinations will be reserved for those 60 and older, with vaccines still available for health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities — a departure from other states and national guidance, which only prioritize age or essential workers.
“Our goal is to reduce deaths and hospitalizations and that makes this the right approach,” Kris Box, the state health commissioner, said. “Our system is working, and we are going to stick with it.
Limited and changing deliveries from the federal government complicate vaccine distribution, Box said, but the state didn’t “sit on” or hold back doses.
Lindsay Weaver, the chief medical officer of the health department, asked Hoosiers not to be frustrated if their preferred site didn’t have any availability and to complete registration before their appointment.
“We do not want to see lines of people waiting hours outside for their vaccines and offering a first-come, first-served approach,” Weaver said.
In long-term care facilities, Dan Rusyniak, the chief medical officer of the Family and Social Services Administration, said more than 1,300 facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities, had signed up to have their vaccines administered through the federal CVS/ Walgreens program.
“The pharmacies are on pace to administer the first vaccine (dose) at all of the skilled nursing facilities in the state by the first week of February,” Rusyniak said, adding that more than 11,000 nursing home residents had received their first shots.
With an estimated 34,000 residents, according to Rusyniak, that means approximately 32% of residents have been vaccinated.
Statistics on staffers are more difficult to calculate because staffers could be vaccinated at local hospitals or community centers. Rusyniak said approximately 10 facilities also haven’t signed up for the pharmacy program nor shared their plans with the state.
Despite the surge in vaccinations, studies haven’t concluded whether the inoculated could still carry the virus and potentially spread it to others. Because of this, Box advised Hoosiers to continue social distancing and wearing masks.
“This is more important now than it ever has been before,” Box said, adding that a highly contagious COVID-19 variant had been identified in Indiana. “We cannot afford to abandon those measures that are proven to reduce the transmission of the virus.”