Across the nation, citizens and experts are criticizing the speed of the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out. WNIN’s Sarah Kuper spoke with Indiana state and Vanderburgh County officials about their take on the process.
As Indiana state health officials promote the vaccine’s availability, they admit there is only so much they can do. At a January 13th press conference, Governor Eric Holcomb, Indiana Chief Medical officer Dr. Lindsey Weaver, and Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said the logistics are in place to widen the scope of vaccinations but the supplies aren't there.
“We have not been sitting on doses and we never will. We know the federal government has said they will send us more vaccine but we haven’t been told when or how much or that the doses are on their way,” Box said.
"The demand for the vaccine is extremely high. We are expanding eligibility as fast as we have access to the vaccine. We will just have to see how much more we get in the next weeks. All our plans are in action, we are just waiting to have the vaccine available,” Weaver added.
Holcomb said the state's capability to vaccinate is only as limited as the shipments themselves, "Our limiting factor is the inventory. The only thing I want more of is the inventory. That’s it. We will get it into arms when we get it.”
It’s a similar message in the tri-state. Vanderburgh Health Department Administrator Joe Gries says the hold up in offering more vaccines is the supply – not the logistics of getting people signed up and vaccinated.
“It’s been going really smoothly here but it really boils down to the availability of the vaccine," he said. "There are 92 counties receiving it, many dozens of hospitals, the Walgreens and CVSs that are working with long term care facilities. There are a lot of entities, and only a certain amount to go around. We are receiving what we can here and trying to get rid of it as quickly as we can.”
The federal government decided in November that once vaccines are approved, they will be allocated to states based on adult population size.
Indiana state health officials take a similar approach when it comes to distributing doses to counties but they include a few more factors:
“We know the population of each county based on age-groups and we collected info on co-morbidities. So our initial allocation is based on that but then we look at the uptake and adjust too," Weaver said.
January 12th was the first day of vaccinations at the Vanderburgh County Health Department for people ages 80 and older. And soon locals ages 70+ will begin receiving doses. Thousands across Indiana have signed up, but without knowing how many vaccines will make their way to Indiana, officials are left estimating.
Box and Weaver said officials are operating under the assumption that each week they will receive at least as many doses as the last and hopefully much more. Plus, they say more vaccine approvals are on the horizon.
Acknowledging the frustrations of Hoosiers of having to wait for vaccinations, Weaver and Gries offered some strategy and advice:
“If you are really anxious, look at other sites in surrounding counties, somewhere that is convenient to you, they may have openings,” Weaver said.
Gries added, "There are going to be new appointments opening up every week and people just need to keep an eye out and check back.”
In the meantime, public health officials are asking people to be more diligent than ever about mask-wearing and social distancing.
Because, even as the vaccine slowly makes its way to Hoosiers, Box said a new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 is also spreading throughout the state.
“That variant strain of the virus has been detected here in Indiana. It does not appear that it causes a higher percentage of death but it is much easier to spread which will burden our healthcare systems.”