As Indiana officials continue to expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines, the local health department is working to meet the increased demand.
“I want everyone to know that the health department is doing everything they can,” Miami County Health Officer Dr. Christi Redmon told the Tribune on Thursday.
That includes expanding appointment availability to Tuesday and Thursday evenings as well as a drive-thru vaccination clinic on Saturdays.
“We will do that for as long as there is a need,” Redmon said.
Redmon announced the first wave of hours for vaccines earlier this month when the state opened eligibility for those Hooisers 80 and older.
On Wednesday, the Indiana State Department of Health expanded that to 70 and older.
Within five hours of the announcement, nearly 60,000 people aged 70 to 79 had scheduled appointments, said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the state health department’s chief medical officer.
The vaccines became available to Indiana residents 80 and older last Friday following the initial rollout of doses for Indiana health care workers and nursing home residents and staffers in December. About 100,000 Hoosiers in that age group have since scheduled appointments to receive the free COVID-19 vaccines, state officials said.
“It gives us a lot of confidence that the vaccine is getting to where it is intended to be,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said during a Wednesday news briefing.
Health officials said last week that they planned to start offering vaccinations in the coming weeks next to those 70 and older and then 60 and older.
Weaver said Wednesday that the state will expand eligibility “as quickly as supplies and resources allow,” though Indiana’s latest plan strays from the Centers for Disease Control’s recent recommendation that states immediately start vaccinating other groups lower down the priority scale, including people age 65 and older and younger people with certain health problems.
“Our goal is to reduce deaths and hospitalizations. And that makes this the right approach,” said the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Kristina Box. “Our system is working and we are going to stick with it.”
She continued that, once the state opens the vaccine to people over the age of 60, the state will have targeted 22.5 percent of all Hoosiers for the vaccine. That population accounts for 64.1 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations and 93.3 percent of the deaths.
“We are continuing our mission of protecting most vulnerable Hoosiers, and we will continue to expand quickly as we receive additional vaccine,” Box said.
So far, about 220,000 Hoosiers have received their first coronavirus shot, and 40,000 have gotten their second, according to the state’s vaccination dashboard, updated Wednesday.
Locally, as of Wednesday, 713 Miami County residents had received their first dose of the vaccine, according to information from the state. No residents were recorded as yet having received the second dose.
Box said the state is expecting to get more vaccine from the federal government, but cautioned that “we are in a numbers game,” and there still are not enough doses in Indiana to provide vaccine to every Hoosier who wants it.
For now, appointments for those 70 and older can be made at the website ourshot.in.gov or by calling the state’s 2-1-1 telephone assistance service.
Redmon suggested that family members help the elderly with the process.
Redmon first announced a single drive-thru clinic last week, but said Thursday that has been expanded to all Saturdays from 12 to 8 p.m. at the Boulevard entrance of Dukes Memorial Hospital.
Doing so, she said, will help get more people through the process than they might be able to operating solely out of the smaller Health Department office on Court Street. It might also help officials reach those who could have trouble to a walk-in appointment.
“It really is helpful for people with limited mobility,” Redmon said.
She cautioned that making the appointment online might not notify the patient that the Saturday appointment will take place at the Dukes drive-thru location, but she said there will be signage posted at the Health Department, which is closed on Saturdays, as well as signs at Dukes, directing residents where to go.
Redmon estimates that there are about 6,000 residents in the county over 65 and she said she is also working on holding large single-day clinics similar to those held in the past for the flu shot, where even more can be vaccinated. Information on those events will be released in the future.
“I think there is going to be a flood gate shortly and I just want to be ready,” she said. “As we get in doses we are going to go as fast as we can.”
Hours at the local Health Department for vaccination will be Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and on Tuesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. Patients must register an appointment through the state website or 211 line prior to arrival.