As the prospect of achieving herd immunity against the COVID-19 virus could be waning, according to some experts, Bloomington and Monroe County area officials are trying to focus on getting local vaccination rates as high as possible.
The confirmed daily positive case numbers in Monroe County have been vacillating over the last couple of weeks in the low to mid-20s without a clear longer-term upward or downward trend. The short-term trend over the last five days is somewhat downward.
Speaking at the regular Friday news conference of local leaders this week, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, said, “Even if we don’t make population immunity or herd immunity…maybe the local vaccination numbers just in our area are more important than we may have thought, compared to everything else.”
IU Health’s south central region president Brian Shockney put it this way: “We gotta get this vaccine rate up.”
The rolling 14-day daily average of Monroe County residents who have received a final dose of the vaccine has leveled off at around 1,000. That figure will now likely slide when a few thousand extra doses, delivered at Indiana University’s Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall clinic, fall out of the rolling average window.
Kirk White, IU’s vice president for strategic partnerships said on Friday those additional doses came when the university started up a student-focused point of distribution (POD).
The challenge faced by local leaders in convincing people to go ahead and get a shot is evident in the vaccination numbers.
According to Hamilton’s report at Friday’s news conference, 338 city workers have applied for a $100 incentive for getting vaccinated. He pegged that as 40 percent of the city’s employees. That’s just 6 points better than the 34.5 percent of the countywide population who have been vaccinated.
According to the state’s vaccine dashboard, 51,438 Monroe County residents are now fully vaccinated, out of a population of about 148,000.
Monroe County’s health administrator Penny Caudill said on Friday that 60 people took advantage of the single-dose walk-in vaccine clinic held by the county health department the previous day at the Crestmont Boys & Girls Club.
Responding to a question about the university’s potential plans in the fall to require students to be vaccinated, White said on Friday: “We don’t have a mandatory requirement, yet. But I would say that our medical response team has been studying that closely over the past couple of months.”
White tied the possibility of regular in-person activities in the fall to high vaccination rates. “It’s difficult for us to see how we would get back to normal operations without a very high number of vaccinated students, faculty and staff,” he said.
The decision on requiring vaccinations will be made by the university president and the cabinet, with recommendations from the Restart Committee, experts from IU’s school of medicine, and a medical response team that meets daily, White said.
White indicated the decision would come soon: “I would expect that sometime in the next couple of weeks, we’ll be able to give some additional guidance on that, because we want to give people plenty of time for whatever the decision might be.”