On Wednesday, Indiana’s COVID-19 vaccine eligibility dropped to anyone age 16 and over, and though there has been an increase in demand at local clinics, health officials would like to see more young adults taking advantage of the opportunity.

Adam Thacker, chief operating officer at Good Samaritan, said their vaccine clinic has scheduled more than 600 new vaccine appointments in the first three days since the eligibility changes took affect — more than all new appointments scheduled in the previous two weeks combined.

While he’s encouraged by those numbers, Thacker says he would like to see more representation from younger demographics.

“As we go down by age group, we see that uptake in vaccination really drop with each group. I think that generally healthier population doesn’t necessarily see the need.

“But rolling up our sleeves for the vaccine is the best way we can move forward,” he said.

Knox County Health Officer Dr. Alan Stewart says in the first two days of widespread eligibility he has not seen the dramatic increase in traffic he hoped to witness at the Health Department’s clinic, located at 1548 S. Hart Street Rd.

“A couple of months ago when we moved to vaccinating first responders and those 80 and above, it was like the flood gates opened — I hoped it would be a lot more like that,” Stewart said.

Though most children and young adults were spared the worst symptoms of COVID-19 in 2020, Stewart cautions the B117 strain that has taken hold in cities across the U.S. poses much greater risk to younger demographics than the original strains that widely circulated the U.S.

“People need to realize with this new B117 strain, they really need to get protected now. It’s much more virulent,” Stewart said. “It’s pretty scary.”

Too, he warns, the county has recently seen a slow but steady increase in cases.

After several days with no new cases in recent weeks, Knox County has added 8 new cases in the past two days, with now 28 total active cases.

“At one point we were down to just five active cases, so I’m really concerned about the increase we’ve seen,” Stewart said, noting that there could be a correlation between several new cases and spring break travel and gatherings.

The state overall has also seen its rates increase in recent days, with a positivity rate that was once around 2.8% having moved back up to 4% on Wednesday.

“There’s enough going on that it’s cause for concern,” Stewart added.

With numbers once again ticking up, and a more virulent and contagious strain making its way across the nation, Stewart hopes local residents will take immediate advantage of the ample vaccine supply in Knox County.

Appointments, he says, are no longer necessary at the health department’s vaccine clinic, noting that individuals can simply walk in and a volunteer will register them onsite.

“And there is no out-of-pocket cost for the vaccine,” Stewart reminded.

Good Samaritan will also begin outreach at all four local school systems, going onsite to offer vaccines to all staff members as well as students age 16 and over.

Thacker said as soon as Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the changes to vaccine eligibility, hospital officials and school administrators began discussions of onsite clinics.

“It will be a mobile clinic, similar to what we do when we host blood drives at local schools,” Thacker said.

Good Samaritan’s staff will administer the Pfizer vaccine — the only one approved for those under age 18 — to faculty and students, beginning at Lincoln High School on April 6.

Students who are between 16-17 years of age must have parental consent, and Thacker says that will be done both electronically on ourshot.in.gov, as well as written consent on permission slips sent home by the school corporations.

Though some parents have expressed concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Noel Suanes, a pediatrician, says vaccinating teens and young adults is something that will help the population at large.

“The vaccine is obviously something that will help the population in general, as well as limiting transmission to more susceptible individuals as well as kids with things like asthma or chronic heart diseases,” he said.

While he acknowledges and understands the fears parents have of the newly developed vaccines and possible side effects, Suanes says the current data looks promising.

The local pediatrician said though the full side effect profile won’t be realized until more teens are vaccinated, it has been 100% effective for the number of kids tested.

“We’ve never had that in a vaccine — The trial period is limited, so later we’ll see if it’s truly 100% effective in children or if it will drop to something like 85%.

“But the first trial period has been very promising,” Suanes said.

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