In December, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for COVID-19 granted Emergency Use Approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Since then, Gov. Eric Holcomb has publicized the first phases of the state’s distribution plan and Putnam County has begun administering the vaccine.
Due to a limited supply of the vaccines, the rollout has been phased, focusing on getting the individuals most at risk of contracting or dying from the virus vaccinated first.
Each state is allotted a certain amount of vaccines based on population. Similarly, within Indiana, the vaccines are distributed by county, the amounts based on population. For the first phase of vaccine distribution, Putnam County was set to receive 0.43 percent of the vaccines allotted for the state.
According to Putnam County’s health officer, Dr. Adam Amos, eligibility to get vaccinated is based on the Center of Disease Control (CDC) recommendations and the findings of the Indiana Health Department. Vulnerable people such as “healthcare workers, first responders, long-term care residents and anyone over the age of 70” are currently eligible, Amos said. “Their goal's ultimately to reduce the number of deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19.”
People can make appointments online at arcgis.com or by calling 2-1-1 and can be vaccinated at the Putnam County Health Department by staff and trained volunteers. Amos advised people to schedule online if they’re comfortable, noting comments he has received about backlogs resulting in long hold times for people scheduling appointments over the phone. “There has been some frustration about the availability of appointments to people that are eligible. And, of course, we recognize that frustration,” said Amos.
On the whole, however, he feels the vaccine rollout has been going “very smoothly,” and is “happy to see how Indiana has handled it here.”
Some people have expressed concerns about the vaccine, which Amos said he tries to be open to and address as specifically as he can. “It's important not to minimize people's fears but to take them seriously and to have an open discussion about them,” said Amos.
Scientists had the SARS-CoV-1 -- a disease in the same family as COVID-19-- vaccine research as a starting point. The FDA provides information on the approval of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines on their website.
Any side effects can be reported through the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERShhs.gov), and the data is available to the public. While he noted that the COVID-19 vaccines can have “some bad side effects,” such as chills, headaches, fevers and fatigue, Amos said that the Putnam County Health Department has seen “very few reactions at all in anyone that's come here...people seem to be tolerating it very well.”
In order to track COVID-19 vaccines specifically, the CDC has set up V-Safe, a smartphone app where users can submit any side effects and get reminders about follow-up appointments.
The current limit on expanding vaccination efforts in the county is the supply of the vaccine itself. “I think a lot of people have the misconception that you know, we simply don't have enough workers or enough space to administer the vaccine, and really, it comes more down to just the supply of the vaccine,” said Amos.
“You know, we've had folks say, I wish they'd open up PODs, and open up different areas to give the vaccine, and if we did that, we'd just have a bunch of people sitting with nothing to do.” Amos added, “we're very grateful for the assistance we've gotten from the Putnam County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).”
Increased access to the vaccine would also make it possible for the county to expand eligibility. Epidemiologists will then advise the state based on factors “like the exact situation with the virus, the current caseloads, the fatality rate by age,” Amos said. In other words, they take into account information like the number of people being hospitalized, the reported rates of infection, and which people, once sick, are most likely to die from the disease.
Although the specifics will be determined by epidemiologists as the situation evolves, he expects one of the next steps in expanding eligibility to be lowering the age of people who can receive the vaccine. Although he didn’t list a specific age bracket, a PDF released by the Indiana Department of Health suggests that the vaccine may next be available to anyone over 60 -- with the “eligibility date to be determined.”
Currently, neither K-12 nor higher education school employees are specifically being vaccinated -- though any over the age of 70 are eligible. The preliminary plan released by the state in October placed teachers among the groups to be vaccinated during the next phase, phase 2, which would be targeted to “mitigate the spread.” This phase would follow the vaccination of healthcare workers and people over 65 and would focus on “those at elevated risk of transmission of the disease because of working or living circumstances,” including teachers.
Stevie Baker-Watson, a member of DePauw’s COVID-19 Task Force, said that the university has been in contact with the county health department. “If DePauw can be a resource for our county, because of space, because of freezers, for instance, to keep the vaccine, we'd like to be a partner in that for our community,” Baker-Watson said.
DePauw is following the state guidelines for vaccine eligibility and does not have plans to try to get staff or students vaccinated before they would be eligible.
DePauw’s COVID-19 guidelines have not been impacted by the vaccine distribution, according to Baker-Watson. “For those of us on campus, we haven't changed any of our policies related to quarantine or isolation, for example, or testing, whether or not you have the vaccine,” Baker-Watson said. Students and staff will still be expected to distance and wear masks.
According to Amos, both the state and county have been attempting to use local and social media to keep people informed about the vaccine distribution and their eligibility, which he believes is working well. The best way to get up-to-date information is by checking the county and state webpages on the process according to Amos. DePauw also reaches out to members of the campus such as the DePauw Police, who are eligible for vaccination as first responders, to inform them of their eligibility.
Looking further ahead to when the vaccine is more available, Baker-Watson believes any decision about requiring students or staff to be vaccinated “would probably start within our COVID-19 task force,” before going to the university’s president Dr. Lori White and possibly the cabinet or trustees. According to Baker-Watson, “it would take a lot for them to have this kind of conversation, but we recognize that it can be very hot-button for people, and we want to look at all sides and see what's best for DePauw and what's best for the individuals.”
Any decision would be communicated to students by email before taking effect, and if the vaccine were to be a requirement, the school would also provide students information on medical or religious exemptions, according to Baker-Watson.