Monroe County, Bloomington officials say: Get COVID-19 vaccine when it’s your turn

In the state of Indiana and Monroe County, the COVID-19 pandemic numbers continue to slide down the other side of the peaks that were climbed starting in mid- to late-October of 2020.

The most recent rolling 7-day daily averages for Indiana deaths (19), hospitalizations (1,274), confirmed positive cases(1,621) are the lowest the state has seen since mid-October. The same is true for confirmed positive cases in Monroe County (31).

Dispensing every drop of vaccine that they are allocated has become the main focus for local health officials. That’s the basic picture that emerged from Friday’s weekly news conference held by local officials on pandemic response.

Right now the main barrier to vaccinating more people is the amount of vaccine available. IU Health is currently allocated about 4,000 doses a week, and Monroe County’s clinic is getting around 800 doses a week. The current pace of full vaccinations—two doses are required—would put Monroe County at the 70-percent herd-immunity threshold around mid-November.

That’s assuming demand remains higher than the supply of vaccine. Otherwise put, that’s assuming that enough people are willing to be vaccinated.

Right now it’s front-line medical workers, first responders, and those who are older than 65, who are eligible. But the eligible age range is expected soon to drop to 60.

At last week’s press conference, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, reported about 60 percent of city firefighters and 50 percent of police officers, had been vaccinated so far. Asked about the possibility of an eventual requirement imposed on city employees to get vaccinated, Hamilton said no mandate was in place, but did not rule it out: “We have not chosen to do a mandate. That’s tricky. I think it can be done. It’s not typical for most places, but we’ll continue to look at that.”

At Friday’s press conference Hamilton promoted the idea of getting vaccinated: “And reminder when it is your turn, please get a vaccination. That’s how we’re gonna end this pandemic.”

Echoing that sentiment on Friday was Shawna Girgis, who is IU Health south central region program director for community relations and outreach. “We’re just encouraging everyone, when it comes their turn, to get their vaccine,” Girgis said.

For those who are directly involved in the vaccination operations, thinking about achieving the herd-immunity threshold of a 70-percent vaccination rate is taking a backseat to basic logistical challenges. Those include dispensing a limited amount of vaccine in the context of approaching bad winter weather. A winter storm watch is in effect starting Sunday night.

County health administrator Penny Caudill told The Square Beacon: “To be frank, we will vaccinate as long as vaccine is coming to us. Calculating when we get to 70%, or any percentage, is not a priority at this time.” Caudill continued, “If we had control over vaccine it could be, but given the situation, we are focused on how we can do a good job now and expand as the vaccine flows.”

Caudill wrapped up with a reference to the willingness of people to be vaccinated: “If we had plenty of access we could expand delivery and meet that percent faster. Assuming, demand continues of course.”

Some approaching bad winter weather could wreak havoc with scheduled vaccination appointments next week. Monroe County is included in a winter storm watch  that covers a wide swath of the country stretching northeast from Texas.

Caudill said if the clinics have to close due to weather next week, attempts would be made to notify people who have appointments, with the same communication method that was used to confirm the appointment, likely a text message. She also recommended monitoring the health department’s Facebook page.

The county uses its emergency alert system  (sign up under that link) to notify people about weather alerts and some pandemic-related news.

Indiana University’s campus could become a distribution vaccine distribution center, which would expand local distribution capacity by a lot. That’s a possibility that the university’s assistant vice president for strategic partnerships, Kirk White, has talked about in previous weeks.

On Friday, White pegged the potential for IU to start distributing vaccines to the availability of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which might get emergency approval sometime in March, he thinks. Currently, just the vaccines from Moderna and from Pfizer are available for distribution.

For vaccine distribution, the university expects to tap the same kind of logistical infrastructure it developed to undertake massive mitigation testing of its students, faculty and staff.