INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana is receiving fewer vaccines based on its population than other states.
Well, that’s not so clear, although it may be in part because the federal government is choosing to focus extra resources elsewhere and not the Crossroads of America.
Indiana has administered nearly 2.2 million doses of vaccines to more than 1.3 million Hoosiers so far and the state has been rapidly opening eligibility to new demographic groups nearly weekly.
President Joe Biden has recently issued a goal for the U.S. to have vaccines available to any American by May 1. It’s a goal Hoosier leaders are hoping to accomplish, too, but state health officials note that expansion of eligibility has been and remains dependent on the supply of shots being received by the state.
And, reportedly, Indiana is getting a smaller proportion of vaccines compared to other states.
Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said recent data shows Indiana ranks 35th among the 50 states for vaccines delivered per 100,000 residents, but Indiana has the 17th biggest population in the nation.
“Our goal is to get more shots in arms in Indiana so we’re eager for the vaccine supply to increase substantially,” Box said.
The good news is that when Indiana does get vaccines, it’s been efficient in getting those shots in arms.
Indiana uses 85% of the vaccines it receives every week in that same week with just 15% rolling over to use the next week, figures that are above the national average.
With nearly 13% of its population fully vaccinated, Indiana is also beating the national average on that metric, even despite receiving fewer shots per-capita.
The reasons why Indiana is getting fewer doses aren’t exactly clear, but Box said it may be partly due to federal programs that have targeted other states.
“Indiana has several thousand doses less than many states,” Box said. “That gap seems to be widening as we’re seeing more and more of these larger FEMA sites pop up.”
Box said she initially thought the vaccines at those FEMA sites were coming out of the state’s normal allocations, but it appears they may be extra resources from the feds on top of what states are normally getting.
The problem may resolve itself in the near future as states have been promised significantly larger shipments by the end of March and into April.
The disparity in shot supply isn’t from a lack of asking, however, as Gov. Eric Holcomb, Box and Indiana State Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver said they are always advocating for more doses. If and when Indiana gets more shots, the state has proven it gets them to Hoosiers rapidly, Weaver said.
“We are advocating for Indiana and I am profoundly proud of all our partners across the state as we have been so efficient at getting vaccines in arms,” Weaver said. “We’re prepared and we’re ready when those vaccines come.”
But while supply remains an ongoing conflict, Indiana is also running into a concern about decreasing demand for vaccines with each new age group.
So far, 72% of Hoosiers 80 years old and older have signed up for or already received vaccines and uptake among Hoosiers in their 70s have hit 75%.
But those in their 60s are currently sitting at 63% and those in their 50s — who have been eligible since March 3 — are only at 43% so far.
Hoosiers 45-49, which just became eligible on March 16, have hit 23% of people who have either already signed up or received a shot through other eligibility openings like being a health care worker, first responder or educator.
Indiana has seen some uptick in vaccine registrations among younger Hoosiers, but at a slower pace than was seen for older groups. Signup pages were overloaded when the oldest Hoosiers were eligible, a problem that hasn’t been repeated on days when younger groups have first become eligible.
“While those in their 50s continue to lag behind other age group in vaccine signups, we have seen an increase of about 12%,” Box said.
Weaver, who has headed up the state’s vaccine plan, encouraged middle-aged Hoosiers not to delay, reminding them that even they have increased risk from COVID-19 compared to younger people.
“People in their 40s are at three times greater risk for hospitalization and 10 times greater risk for death,” Weaver said, adding later that people in their middle ages may think they’re healthy but more often have underlying health issues that simply haven’t been discovered yet, which puts them at greater risk in combination with COVID-19.
Vaccine eligibility for Hoosiers 40-45 should open up “very soon,” Weaver said.
The state hasn’t indicated who will become eligible after people in their 40s. Whether it will continue another decade down to the 30s or whether the state may attempt to open up vaccines to anyone regardless of age or occupation is yet to be seen.
Slower uptake among younger people is likely, in part, because younger people spent more time in public during the pandemic than older people who shut in at home as a means of protection.
“The younger age groups have been out and they have been managing this … the elderly have many people who stayed home and missed everything. But what we want to do is protect everybody,” Box said.
Although younger people are less at risk for serious complications of the virus compared to older people, health officials still strongly encourage vaccination not just as a method to protect those individuals, but vaccination also creates a communal protection for others, too.
Weaver recounted her experience at the recent mass vaccination drive-thru in Sellersburg and heard from some younger people that they wanted to get vaccinated as an extra layer of protection for those more at risk than them.
“They’re looking forward to hugging their parents again with confidence that their parents are fully vaccinated and they’re fully vaccinated,” Weaver said.
The state is also working toward a goal of herd immunity — a communal immunity that occurs where if enough people become immune to a disease it helps break transmission and protect even people who are not inoculated.
Estimates for the threshold to achieve that widespread protection have been pinned at around 70%.
“Herd immunity is important because that is how we can help protect individuals that can’t get vaccinated,” Box said, including infants and people with immune conditions either due to a disease or a situation such as cancer treatments suppressing immune response.
Herd immunity would also help to protect people who voluntarily choose not to get vaccinated, because of anti-vaccine sentiments or other reasons.
The slowing uptake rates may also be due to vaccine hesitancy — people who are waiting for more information or more time but could eventually be convinced to get vaccinated as opposed to people who simply refuse and can’t or won’t be swayed regardless — so state officials recognize they have more work to do sharing information about the vaccine, its effectiveness and safety.
Box said people who have that hesitancy should take an opportunity to talk with their primary care physicians about the vaccines to get more information that may help them make a decision.
Holcomb also encouraged everyday Hoosiers who have received vaccines and have had apositive experience to share that with people who may be on the fence about vaccines.
“We’ll continue to do that type of outreach but also word of mouth inside a community is pretty powerful,” Holcomb said. “Having a peer of yours testify to the fact they had it, had zero side-effects, is just a bit of insurance to be very persuasive.”