Knox County is officially in line to get some of the first doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine.

County health officer Dr. Alan Stewart said he recently made application to the State Department of Health to be a potential distribution site for the coronavirus vaccine — when one becomes available.

“We anticipate that some vaccines may be available by the end of the year,” Stewart said, citing his own research and conversations with colleagues close to ongoing vaccine trials.

Stewart believes the first vaccines, ones likely still in Phase 3 trials, will only be made available to those on the front lines of fighting COVID-19, people like first-responders and healthcare workers.

Next up to get it, he said, would be “vulnerable” populations, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions that make being infected with the novel coronavirus far more dangerous.

He hopes that a vaccine could be made available to the general population by the middle of next year — a vaccine that would then likely be in Phase 4 trials and, therefore, the side effects, if any, better understood.

“By that time, there could be as many as three or four vaccinations on the market. There will be more evaluations, greater understanding,” he said. “Those Phase 4 trials are where you get a better understanding of its effectiveness and any complications.

“Then, if there are no problems, that’s when I would probably get in line to get one,” he said.

Regardless, Stewart wants a vaccine available here just as soon as possible, which is why he made application with the state Department of Health to be a distribution site for those early doses.

“It’s just a formality, one saying we’re interested in participating,” he said, adding that Knox County may not be chosen at all.

“I’d actually be surprised if we saw anything from that first batch of vaccines, but either way, we will be ready to participate.”

Indiana health officials on Tuesday added 27 more coronavirus-related deaths to the state’s pandemic toll as the state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations and rates of new infections continue sharp increases.

The 1,288 COVID-19 hospitalizations as of Monday marked the ninth straight day topping 1,000 after not reaching that high since the end of May, the Indiana State Department of Health reported.

Such hospitalizations have grown 70% in the past three weeks, which is when Gov. Eric Holcomb decided to lift nearly all of Indiana’s restrictions on businesses and crowd sizes that he had imposed to slow the coronavirus spread while keeping the statewide mask mandate.

The newly recorded deaths raise the state’s death toll to 3,822, including confirmed and presumed coronavirus cases, according to the health department. That’s an increase of 111 deaths in the past week.

The health department’s daily update showed Indiana’s seven-day rolling average of new confirmed COVID-19 infections continued growing at record levels, reaching 1,601 as of Sunday. That’s a 90% increase from three weeks earlier.

Holcomb faces a decision this week on extending the mask order, which is set to expire Saturday.

Much of southwestern Indiana remains a coronavirus hot spot, with most of the counties to the south of Knox County rated in the most severe categories of orange or red (Pike County).

Knox County, however, is faring well. The state reported an additional four cases here on Tuesday; the positivity rate dropped again to 2.8%.

There have been ten deaths so far.

The total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 here stands at 610.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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