Officials with the Knox County Health Department will host additional walk-in clinic hours this week to administer as many as 100 more doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
The clinic will be open from 3-7 p.m. Thursday at the Community United Methodist Church, 1538 Hart Street Road, and no preregistration is required. Instead, those seeking the vaccine are asked to arrive at the clinic where they will be given a ticket with a number.
“When their number comes up, we will call them into the clinic for the vaccine,” said county health officer Dr. Alan Stewart.
Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine has been highly sought after because of the convenience, but Stewart says the future supply of it locally is still unknown.
“It’s been very unpredictable,” he said. “We were initially told we would receive 200 doses this week, but on Friday we found out the state didn’t receive as much as anticipated, so our allotment was reduced to 100 doses.”
Stewart said the unpredictable rollout by Johnson & Johnson is similar to what was experienced nationwide in the early weeks of the distribution of Pfizer and Moderna in December.
“We do expect more Johnson & Johnson at some point, but it’s still early days with them,” he said, before urging individuals to take advantage of the readily available supplies of Pfizer and Moderna.
Stewart says vaccination is what will keep the community open.
“Everyone taking advantage of our stock of vaccine is how we will be able to have Rendezvous and safely open places like Rainbow Beach,” he said.
Though he realizes residents want the convenience of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Stewart says there is no reason to wait to be vaccinated.
“Take the first one you can get,” he said, adding that there is no reason to think one of the three options is better than the other, beyond the simple convenience of the single-shot.
In clinical trials, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 85% effective in preventing severe/critical illness and 66% effective in preventing symptomatic illness 28 days after vaccination. It was 100% effective in preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are 95% and 94.1% effective, respectively, in preventing symptomatic illness of the predominant strains of the virus, but they were tested before the new, more contagious variants emerged.
It’s the current spread of the more contagious variants — which now accounts for roughly 30% of all new COVID cases in the U.S. — that has Stewart worried and urging Knox County residents be vaccinated now.
The B117 variant of the virus — also known as the British or Kent strain — is now the dominant strain in some southern parts of the U.S., including Florida, and if current trends are followed it will soon overtake the Northeast.
Stewart explains that B117 is a more contagious and virulent form of the virus, and its affects on kids and younger adults is more substantial and alarming, making vaccination of everyone over the age of 16 more urgent.
“But we have a unique opportunity to outrun this strain in Indiana because we have so much vaccine available,” he said, adding that all three available vaccines have proven effective against the British strain.
Recent reports out of Israel, where B117 is predominant, have shown that the current vaccines have been effective against the variant, so health officials across the U.S. are urging all eligible citizens to be vaccinated as quickly as possible.
Currently, anyone age 30 and over is eligible for the vaccine in Indiana, and starting Wednesday it will be available to everyone over the age of 16.
The overall COVID climate in Knox County is good, but Stewart warns of a possible uptick in cases recently.
While the county saw several days with no new cases in recent weeks, Stewart says that has changed.
“We haven’t had a zero day in the last five days, so we still have to be very careful,” he said.
Stewart is hopeful that young adults will heed the warnings of the scientific and medical community and take advantage of the opportunity to be vaccinated.
That includes, he says, students at Vincennes University, who are eligible to be vaccinated locally even if Indiana is not their home state.
So far, more than 8,500 people in Knox County have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Another 10,593 have received their first dose.
The health department’s regular clinic hours remain 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday. It’s also open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.