“Do we prioritize infrastructure or lives saved? Those are different strategies,” Allen County (Ind.) Health Commissioner Dr. Matthew Sutter said during the January 5 “COVID-19 Vaccines: What You Need to Know” webinar. “Right now, we’ve got a relatively limited supply (of vaccines) and a tremendous amount of demand.”
On February 8, the Indiana State Department of Health reported that a total of 699,769 first doses were administered statewide and that a total of 223,576 Hoosiers are fully vaccinated. Currently, healthcare workers, first responders and Hoosiers 65 years or older are eligible to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.*
Vaccinations for the latter two groups began as part of phase 1b of Indiana’s vaccine rollout. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Indiana has received more than 1.1 million doses of the vaccine.
Like with most other diseases, COVID-19 vaccinations aim to help build herd immunity — the point at which a disease does not naturally spread throughout a population. For reference, an influenza vaccination rate of 80 to 90 percent is recommended to achieve herd immunity and protect both healthy and high-risk persons.
“If (the COVID-19 vaccine) stops transmission, (herd immunity) could be achieved at as low as 50%, it could be as high as 80%. Experts disagree but it’s probably somewhere in that range. The more infectious the virus, the higher the number (of immune) needs to be,” Sutter said. “Even if you do get the vaccine, you still need to wear a mask because you might still get infected and spread it to other people.”
To fully understand the progression towards herd immunity, it is necessary to take a closer look at Pfizer’s and Moderna’s messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines. With an unanticipated application of the freshman year biology curriculum, comprehension of the immunization process is simple. Cells learn to create the all too familiar spike protein of the coronavirus based on instructional code found in mRNA that the vaccine delivers. Once it identifies the protein as a threat, the cell creates protective antibodies in an immune response. Sutter stated that, thus far, there has been no legitimate evidence of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines altering a recipient’s DNA.
“Vaccination itself should be relatively quick. We’re hoping to achieve about a three to four minute vaccination interaction,” Allen County Department Administrator Mindy Waldron said during the webinar. “We hope to (administer) 120 to 140 vaccines an hour. It might start out slower because we are highly dependent on the amount of vaccines shipped to us.”
Waldron added that the prioritization groups in each phase of the vaccine rollout are decided by risk factors, such as age or pre-existing conditions. The vaccine will likely not be available to the general public for the foreseeable future. Notification of rollout to the general public will be done via press releases and other public media. Additionally, the locations that can administer vaccines are limited to hospitals and authorized pharmacies.
“We have to remember that what we say today (could) change at any moment,” Waldron said. “We will be starting with a low amount of vaccines, which is normal. Once we get into full force, we will operate multiple days a week with 40 to 50 plus people working.”
Just as the vaccine and practices like mask wearing and handwashing are imperative in flattening the curve, so too is widespread testing for the coronavirus disease. The National Institutes of Health detailed that “identifying infected individuals while they are presymptomatic, as well as those who are asymptomatic, will play a major role in stopping the pandemic.”
Testing is a relatively simple process that helps save lives by preventing spread of the virus through possible medical treatment, self isolation and contact tracing. Nationally, testing has evolved from preliminary throat swab samples to the now common nose swab samples; less intrusive saliva sample testing is being developed for extensive use. On average, COVID-19 test results are reported within 48 hours by text message, email or phone call.
Of Indiana’s estimated population of 6.85 million people, over 3.01 million have been tested, with 21.3% of unique individuals cumulatively testing positive. Of Homestead High School’s student population of approximately 2,343, a total of 33 students have reportedly tested positive this school year — a positive test rate of 1.41% according to the Indiana State Department of Health.*
In Allen County, there are 10 COVID-19 testing sites open eight hours a day from Monday to Friday. Two of these sites are community locations which provide free COVID-19 testing. Making an appointment through online registration is required, since walk-ins are not available.
All Hoosiers are eligible to receive testing with proof of residence.
*Information current as of Tuesday, February 8.