Officials with the county health department’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic believe themselves to be in good-standing with the state and hope to see their steady stream of vaccines continue after health officials on Wednesday said they were looking to crack down on those not following the rules.
“I believe we have done an extremely good job of complying with the rules,” said Betty Lankford, the county’s COVID-19 nurse and clinic coordinator. “I’d say at least 98% of the time we’ve been able to follow those guidelines.
“I’ve been pretty stingy as to what I’ve given out.”
A day after Indiana expanded coronavirus vaccine to all Hoosiers 60 and older, state health officials doubled down on eligibility restrictions and announced new guidelines for clinics administering shots.
Without enough vaccine for all Hoosiers, state health health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said officials are stressing adherence to the state’s vaccine rollout plan that bases shot eligibility on age, rather than moving up teachers and other essential workers as other states have done.
Several clinics that have “ignored” those guidelines will not receive any more first-dose vaccines, Box said, though she declined to indicate where or how many such vaccination sites would be affected.
While a decision in December to open up eligibility to teachers, albeit briefly and due to an abundance of unused vaccines, did draw ire from state health officials, county health officer Dr. Alan Stewart said they have worked hard to get back into their good graces.
And they’ve done well, he said. Even in taking names for call-back lists for extra doses of the vaccine available at the end of the day, they’ve still largely adhered to the state guidelines.
“We had a call-back list of 65 and older. We got it all cleaned up,” Lankford said. “Then we did a new call-back list of 60 and older. And now we’re making a new list of 50 plus.”
Stewart said they speak to state health officials daily; just this week they got an additional — and unexpected — 500 doses of the Moderna vaccine.
“It is hard to be perfect when you’re doing this,” Stewart said, “but I haven’t gotten any vibes here that we’re on the firing line.”
Box said Wednesday that state health officials are reaching out to other clinics that have deviated from the eligibility guidelines “to find out why and, to re-educate them about the importance of following the state’s priority list” when scheduling appointments and adding names to waitlists.
“We are not trying to be the vaccine police, that is the last thing we want to be,” Box said. “We are trying to ensure that we have ethical and equitable access to the vaccine across all 92 counties, based on what the data show are the highest risk individuals here in the state of Indiana. We cannot achieve that goal if sites deviate from the guidelines.”
The state health department’s chief medical officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver said clinics have additionally been instructed to stop administering first doses of COVID-19 vaccine to people who live in other states to ensure “that every dose received in Indiana goes to Hoosiers.”
Around 19,000 healthcare workers and first responders who work in Indiana but live in other states were inoculated, Weaver said. Those out-of-state workers will still be able to schedule and receive their second dose, but no new appointments will be scheduled for non-residents.
After a winter storm closed more than 80 clinics and disrupted upwards of 43,000 vaccine appointments last week, Box said Indiana has since received all delayed doses of vaccine, and regular weekly allotments have resumed.
State officials anticipated 247,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines this week, Weaver said Wednesday. Accounting for new additional doses of Pfizer vaccine vials, that number is expected to increase to 267,000 beginning next week.
Indiana could also receive vials of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as early as next week, she continued.
After vaccine eligibility opened to include Hoosiers aged 60 to 64 on Tuesday, Weaver said nearly 112,000 people in the age group have scheduled appointments, accounting for more than a fourth of the eligible population in that age bracket.
Nearly 921,000 Hoosiers have received their first dose of vaccine, an increase of nearly 87,000 from last week, Weaver said. Around 480,000 people across Indiana are now fully vaccinated.
As Indiana’s rates of new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths continued a steep decline after peaking in early December, state health officials also lowered the risk level for COVID-19 spread in nearly all counties.
The state Department of Health on Wednesday reported 1,019 new coronavirus infections, bringing the total number of Hoosiers known to have the virus up to 658,043.
Health officials also added 14 recent coronavirus deaths to the statewide total, pushing it to 12,467 fatalities including both confirmed and presumed COVID-19 infections.
The state Department of Health’s weekly tracking map updated Wednesday labels no counties in the highest-risk red category for the second week in a row. That is down from 73 of the 92 counties in that category last month.
This week’s map lists only three counties in the next-riskiest orange category, a drop from eight last week and 40 two weeks earlier.
Fifty other counties have moved to the moderate-risk yellow rating, and 39 counties — including Marion, Hancock and Johnson — are labeled in the lowest-risk blue category.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb announced Wednesday that despite “remarkable” progress to state statistics in that last month, he will still extend extend the state’s health emergency and county-based restrictions for an additional 30 days.
“We were trending in the right direction. We have made remarkable progress in a relatively short period of time,” Holcomb said. “But this is not a mission accomplished moment — far from it.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.