INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosiers in their 70s can start lining up for their COVID-19 vaccines.
Just a week after the state opened vaccine signups to Hoosiers 80 and older, Indiana is now setting appointments for anyone 70 and older.
“It's almost like a gold rush but it's a vaccine rush,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said. “This is really just an incredible achievement by a lot of people for a common cause.”
Appointments can be scheduled by visiting ourshot.in.gov. Those needing assistance with registration can call 2-1-1 or call one of Indiana’s local councils on aging. A caregiver or loved one also may make an appointment on behalf of an eligible senior.
All 92 counties have at least one vaccine site, typically run by the health department, but also available at some regional hospitals.
On Jan. 13, the Indiana State Department of Health and Holcomb announced the update, coming quickly after the state first opened up vaccines to those 80 years old and older on Jan. 6.
Local clinics in counties opened up this week and started giving their first doses of vaccines to those oldest Hoosiers.
After starting vaccine distribution to front-line health care workers, emergency workers and long-term care residents in the first round of vaccinations starting in mid-December, Holcomb and health officials announced last week that rollout would expand to its oldest residents next.
The state's primary goal in the second round of vaccines has been to quickly target the most vulnerable population. Although those 60-plus make up just 22.5% of the state's population, more than 90% of all deaths in Indiana have occurred among people over 60. Those 60 and older have also accounted for about 2-in-3 hospitalizations all-time, so vaccinating those groups first is aimed at saving the most lives and relieving the overburdened health care system.
“We're trying to get everyone as fast as we can but we're starting with those at most risk of death or being hospitalized,” Holcomb said.
Now, the state is quickly expanding its availability, with about 470,000 Hoosiers in their 70s becoming eligible for vaccines. That's about double the number of Hoosiers 80-plus, so it will take longer to work through this age group than the previous one.
As of Jan. 13, about 220,000 Hoosiers had received their first dose and more than 40,000 across the state had received their full two-shot regimen.
In total, 455,000 more people are scheduled to be vaccinated by the end of January.
So far, more than 97,000 people 80-plus have signed up for vaccines, while nearly 60,000 Hoosiers in their 70s had signed up as of Wednesday afternoon.
“That's an amazing feat in just four weeks,” Indiana State Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Linsday Weaver said.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said the ongoing vaccine distribution has been bringing hope across the state and shared stories of Hoosier seniors who have been overjoyed to receive their shots over the last week.
Indiana is pushing out vaccines as quickly as it receives them, Box said, and not holding doses in reserve. While vaccine receipts have increased and the state has already been able to send more doses out to counties.
Expectations about delivery and numbers are still day-to-day, but Box said the state will continue to deliver vaccines as quickly as possible.
“We will continue to expand quickly as we receive additional vaccine,” Box said. “I know how hard it is to wait your turn. We all want to return to normalcy and the vaccine will get us there.”
Hoosiers in their 60s will be up next for appointments, although it's not clear when registrations will open for them.
Earlier this week, the federal government had recommended that vaccines should be open to anyone 65 and older immediately, but Box and Weaver both indicated that Indiana will stay on its current trajectory, prioritizing in 10-year age groups.
After that, the state hasn't identified who will be in the next group of eligible Hoosiers. Around the state there have been calls for people including teachers and other critical workers to be up next, but no criteria have been announced.
Weaver said Indiana is aiming to increase eligibility as quickly as its stock of vaccine allows. If the state receives a larger disbursement in the near future, that rollout can accelerate, she said.
State officials have been satisfied with the rollout of vaccines to the public so far, with Holcomb stating he's been pleased by how quickly Hoosiers have embraced the new immunization.
“I'm pleased to date with the reception from Hoosiers themselves and our ability to accommodate,” Holcomb said. “We were very thoughtful about building the infrastructure, making sure the network was in place … so when people did hear the good news they were able to get scheduled.”
Weaver noted that the rush to sign up on the days when eligibility opened to 80-plus and Jan. 13 when it opened to those in their 70s has jammed up websites and phone banks, but that Hoosiers who are patient are being able to get their spot in line reserved.
For those who are finding local sites overbooked, Weaver encouraged people to look for other nearby sites that may be within travel distance that might have availability.
Hoosiers don't have to get a shot in the county they live in. Vaccines are available to anyone who lives or works in Indiana at any site.
“The best problem to have is we have so many people excited and interested to get the vaccine,” Weaver said.