INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosiers in their 50s and those with serious medical conditions will be the next up for vaccines after people 60 and older.
Indiana hasn’t expanded eligibility to those 60-65 yet, but state officials announced the next group eligibility window that will come after those people in their early 60s.
Indiana State Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver, who has been leading the state’s vaccine plans, announced that after vaccinating people 60 and above, Hoosiers in their 50s and those with five major comorbidities will be able to get appointments next.
Indiana is continuing a pattern of prioritizing those most at risk of hospitalization and death, as opposed to prioritizing certain groups based on employment type or exposure risk.
Teachers and other essential worker groups have been discussed as next possible high-priority groups regardless of age, but the state is continuing to let older Hoosiers get in line first.
“Our plan remains to use data to form our eligibility guidelines,” Weaver said. “As soon as possible we plan to drop our eligibility to 60-65.”
By dropping eligibility after that people in their 50s, that will open up registration to about another 858,000 Hoosiers.
Hoosiers 50 and older account for 35% of the total population but have accounted for 97.6% of the nearly 12,000 deaths in the state.
Weaver noted that by vaccinating people older than 50, that eligibility will cover about 80% of all Hoosiers who have at least one comorbidity that can increase the chance of serious complications or death from COVID-19. Those 50-plus are 30 times more like to die that someone in their 20s, she noted.
The third eligibility group will also include people of any age with five specific comorbidities that have been shown to be major complicators when mixed with COVID-19.
Those five comorbidities include people on active dialysis for kidney disease or failure; those with Dows syndrome; post-solid organ transplant recipients; Hoosiers with sickle cell disease; and those who are actively in treatment for cancer in last three months or with active lung cancer or blood cancers including lymphoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma.
Other comorbidities such as diabetes, heart disease, COPD, high blood pressure and other more common chronic diseases will not be included at this time.
State health officials said those five conditions were chosen for not only their complicating factors but also because, due to the health issues those people are fighting, vaccinations have to be carefully scheduled to provide them safely to those high-risk patients.
The state will be working with health care providers and associations that work with those specific illnesses to try to identify and vaccinate those affected Hoosiers.
Uptake among the currently eligible Hoosiers has been strong so far, with more than half of those populations either receiving vaccines or having appointments set up.
Of those 80-plus, 57% have been vaccinated or signed up; it’s 64% among those in their 70s; 55% in the 65-69 range and 66% of health care workers and first responders.
Current estimates are that it will take at least 70% of the population to gain immunity in order to start getting “herd immunity,” a state in which enough of the population is protected that it makes it difficult for viruses to transmit and thereby protect even those who haven’t been inoculated.
New eligibility openings in Indiana remain totally dependent on the amount of vaccine the state gets, which hasn’t changed substantially in recent weeks.
That being said, Weaver did note that a vaccine in development by Johnson & Johnson is approaching an approval hearing via the federal Food and Drug Administration at the end of the month, which could create a third vaccine available on the market.
Johnson & Johnson vaccine is different from the two currently in use.
First, the Johnson & Johnson is a one-shot vaccine compared to vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which require two shots, and also have less stringent storage requirements, allowing them to be kept at normal refrigeration temperatures compared to a cold requirement for Moderna and super-cold for Pfizer.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, however, shows lower efficacy shortly after being received but with rising effectiveness over time. The vaccine shows about 85% protection from severe disease one month after being administered, but showed no serious cases after 49 days.
Getting that vaccine on the market could immediately boost the number of shots available on the market and allow Indiana to more quickly widen its eligibility net, state officials said.
Weaver noted that Hoosiers likely won’t have a choice in which vaccine they may receive if they have a preference of one over the other, but states that the two currently in use and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine all provide a high level of protection.
Distribution of a one-shot vaccine is logistically easier than requiring people to come in for two doses, but ultimately any should provide good protection.
Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box also stated that since the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been later in development, it’s been exposed in testing to new variants of COVID-19 like the United Kingdom strain, Brazilian strain and South African strain that have shown to be potentially more contagious, even if they’ve not yet shown to be more deadly.
Medical consensus so far is that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do seem to provide protection against new, mutated strains of the virus, but more time and exposure will be needed to tell for sure.