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Indiana healthcare workers first up for COVID-19 vaccine

December 4, 2020 GMT
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Ambulances stand ready outside the old La Porte Hospital building in La Porte, Indiana, on Saturday, Oct. 24, just prior to the start of the move to their new location. Northwest Health - La Porte officially began seeing patients that day as the new $125 million facility kicked off operations and ambulances began transferring patients from the old La Porte Hospital. (Ted Yoakum/The Herald-Dispatch via AP)
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Ambulances stand ready outside the old La Porte Hospital building in La Porte, Indiana, on Saturday, Oct. 24, just prior to the start of the move to their new location. Northwest Health - La Porte officially began seeing patients that day as the new $125 million facility kicked off operations and ambulances began transferring patients from the old La Porte Hospital. (Ted Yoakum/The Herald-Dispatch via AP)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — As Indiana announces its preparations to begin coronavirus vaccinations for some 400,000 healthcare workers by the end of the month, the inoculation timeline for the state’s nursing home residents is still to be determined.

Anyone who provides care to patients or is exposed to infectious materials will be the first in the state to be offered the vaccine, though it will not be required, said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer for the Indiana State Department of Health, during a webinar meeting Friday. That includes doctors, nurses, dentists, first responders, laboratory workers and medical students.

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During the first week or two of availability, Weaver said state officials anticipate they’ll have “a reduced amount” of vaccine on-hand — only enough to cover about 15% of healthcare personnel in Indiana.

Longterm care facility staff and frontline healthcare workers in hospitals, such as those in COVID-19 units, intensive care and emergency departments, are the top priorities during that time, Weaver said: “As soon as we have vaccine, they’ll be invited.”

In the week following the first available doses — when health officials anticipate more rounds of the vaccine will be shipped — all healthcare personnel working in Indiana will then be eligible to get vaccinated at one of 50 hospitals statewide.

“Anybody across the state of Indiana who works in healthcare and has potential exposure to COVID-19 patients ... or infectious materials ... will all be invited to get the vaccine in the next couple of weeks,” Weaver said. “We believe that we will have enough vaccine available in the state of Indiana by the end of December to vaccinate any healthcare personnel who would like to get the vaccine.”

Those who have tested positive for the virus in the last 90 days are recommended to let others who have not tested positive get “closer to immunity” first, Weaver said, though the expectation is that those who were formally infected will still get the vaccine later, as well.

States faced a deadline on Friday to place orders for the coronavirus vaccine, but White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said Thursday it will take weeks to months before many of the nation’s most vulnerable residents can be immunized.

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While healthcare workers within long-term care facilities are included in the earliest criteria, the availability of the vaccine for residents of those facilities “will depend on what we have available,” Weaver said.

Indiana’s original vaccination plan, submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October, indicated that vulnerable populations would be next in line for the vaccine after healthcare personnel.

Weaver said recent discussions among health officials at the state and federal levels have focused on prioritizing essential workers ahead of those in the vulnerable group, however.

“But we don’t know yet,” Weaver said. “A lot depends on one, how much vaccine we get, and two, the safety and efficacy.”

Elderly populations often don’t have “as great of immune response” to vaccines, and they could also be more affected by side effects, she continued. That could mean waiting until more is gleaned from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, or waiting to immunize nursing home residents until another vaccine becomes available.

“I think a lot of that will help inform us where we are headed next as far as who is the next group to get the vaccine,” she said.

The state’s vaccine campaign will come after Indiana has seen steep increases in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths since September.

The state health department’s Friday update added 89 more recent coronavirus-related deaths to the statewide toll.

That total has grown to more than 6,100 deaths, with by about 40% happening since Oct. 1. The state’s seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 deaths has reached 62 per day after that average was below 10 a day during July following the previous peak of 41 in April.

Indiana hospitals have been treating at least 3,000 COVID-19 patients each day since mid-November — more than triple the state’s hospitalizations in September.

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Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.