How Will Indiana Distribute COVID-19 Vaccines? Here's What You Need To Know

Dec 15, 2020

Health care workers received the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, Dec. 14. (Provided by Indiana Department of Health)

Indiana has started receiving its first doses of COVID-19 vaccines this week, and anticipates receiving more at least weekly. 

Who is included in the first phase of vaccinations?

The state’s first phase of initial doses will go to health care workers and long-term care facility residents.

Indiana opened registration beyond first responders and health care workers on Jan. 8, allowing Hoosiers 80 and older to schedule appointments for vaccines. 

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When will others be able to receive the vaccine? What about people over the age of 65, but not living in long-term care facilities?

During a news conference on Jan. 6, the governor and health officials outlined their vaccine roll out plan – which is different from their interim plan in October. 

They are prioritizing by age group. Registration opened to Hoosiers 80-years-old and older on Jan. 8. On Jan. 13, Indiana Department of Health announced it was expanding registration to Hoosiers 70 and older.

The state will eventually expand registration to Hoosiers age 60 and older. Gov. Eric Holcomb described that likely timeline as “weeks, not months.”

Those who qualify may schedule vaccination appointments at OurShot.in.gov or by calling 211.

Vaccination appointments were opened to first responders, law enforcement and similar groups earlier in January. Long-term care facility residents and health care workers were prioritized as the state received its first doses.

When will teachers get the vaccine? Will essential workers be prioritized?

Short answer: we don’t know. 

State health officials said Jan. 6, the reason they were prioritizing based on age is to combat hospitalizations and deaths. Hoosiers 80-years-old and older represent only about 4 percent of the population, but 19 percent of hospitalizations and more than half of deaths. 

When extending that to Hoosiers 60 and older, that’s more than 93 percent of deaths. 

What we do know – for essential workers not in high-risk populations – is decisions on who is vaccinated will be made by the state’s Vaccination Program Implementation Committee. 

Dr. Lindsay Weaver, Indiana Department of Health chief medical officer, said the state is taking national recommendations into consideration, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The ACIP currently recommends prioritizing essential workers – and including teachers among that group. 

However, vaccine distribution is left up to states. Some counties have essentially wait-listed education staff, allowing them to receive vaccinations earlier than state recommendations.

If I qualify to receive the vaccine, how do I sign up? 

There are two main ways to do so: go to OurShot.in.gov or call 211. 

If you’re registering online, at the top of the page, there is a muted red bar that reads “Click here to find a vaccination site and register.” 

That will redirect you to a map, which lists vaccination sites by county. Select the one closest to you (or your loved one). And then select “Click here to register.” 

Select what group best describes you, and then register for your vaccine.

Why is Indiana vaccinating at a much slower pace than our surrounding states?

Mostly because we have fewer people, but as a ratio, we’re matching the pace of most of our neighbors. Vaccine doses are being distributed by the federal government based on population.

Indiana’s population is about 6.7 million Hoosiers. Ohio has 11.7 million, Michigan has just shy of 10 million people, and Kentucky has about 4.5 million. 

As of Jan. 11, Indiana had provided initial vaccines to 2.8 percent of the state’s population, compared to 2.6 percent in Ohio, 2.9 percent in Kentucky, and 2.1 percent in Michigan. 

How many people need to get vaccinated to achieve herd immunity?

Brian Dixon, director of public health informatics at the Regenstrief Institute, said in order to achieve herd immunity in the state, 70 percent, or roughly 4.8 million Hoosiers need to be vaccinated.

He said we’re not likely to reach that number until late summer – and that’s assuming everything goes to plan and everyone gets the vaccine when it’s their turn. 

READ MORE: Indiana Officials Defend Rollout As Older Hoosiers Can Soon Schedule Vaccinations

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If I’ve already had COVID-19, do I still need a vaccine?

Prevailing science says yes for a few reasons: while not common, there have been some reports of reinfection after recovering from COVID-19. The available evidence, according to the CDC, suggests most people who recover from COVID-19 would have a degree of immunity for at least three months following initial diagnosis, some early research suggests that lasts for eight months or longer.

The CDC also says there isn’t enough information about the length of natural immunity – what you’d get from having the virus – and has not made a recommendation yet about whether you’d benefit from getting a vaccine if you’d previously had the virus. 

About 5-10 percent of participants in both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech trials included participants who had the virus previously.

Indiana University is conducting a study to shed light on COVID-19 immunity, after a person has been infected or after being vaccinated.

Do I still have to wear a mask once I have the vaccine?

Yes. 

According to NPR’s Shots, studies of the new vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected. It's possible that they got mild infections — not enough to make them ill, but enough to pass the virus on to others. 

The CDC is calling for those who are immunized to continue wearing masks and practicing safe physical distancing until more is learned.

What’s in the vaccine? I have had allergic reactions in the past to vaccinations – can I still get the COVID-19 vaccine?

The FDA lists 10 ingredients in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine – mRNA, lipids ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate), 2[(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N, N-ditetradecylacetamide, 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine, and cholesterol), potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate, and sucrose.

Basically, that’s three types of fats, cholesterol, sugar, and four types of salt (including sodium chloride, which is table salt). 

If you’ve had allergic reactions to vaccines in the past, you should talk to your primary care provider about the vaccine. People who have had severe allergic reactions may need to be monitored after receiving the vaccine. Polyethylene glycol has been pointed to as what has triggered some anaphylaxis. 

The most common allergic reaction – especially in flu shots – are in people with egg allergies. The most common flu vaccines are developed with egg-based technology, but the FDA and CDC said common food allergies and medicines shouldn’t prevent most people from receiving the vaccine.

What if I’m immunocompromised or taking medications that affect my immune system?

The FDA guidance says you should talk to your primary care physician and make that decision with them. 

They’ll likely give you the OK, but be sure to bring up these concerns with your doctor to make an informed decision. If your doctor says it’s OK, FDA guidance says to give your vaccine provider a heads up.

Will I have to pay for the vaccine?

No. 

Vaccine providers will be able to bill insurance for a fee to administer the vaccine, but will not be able to charge you. They can seek reimbursement for uninsured patients from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.

Can I get or spread COVID-19 from the vaccine?

No. 

There are several different types of vaccines. Rotavirus and MMR vaccines use a live but weakened version of the virus to teach your body to develop long-term immunity to a disease. Flu and rabies shots use an inactive version of the virus, but that’s why you don’t develop long-term immunity from those viruses. 

The COVID-19 vaccine doses developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna use a new type of vaccine, an mRNA vaccine. This type of vaccine has been in development for about three decades, but is only now being used for COVID-19. According to the CDC, mRNA vaccines teach your cells how to make a protein – or even just a piece of a protein – that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects you from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies.

That being said, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two doses to be effective – more similar to many childhood vaccinations than getting a flu shot.

How effective are the vaccines?

Only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. According to the FDA’s authorization letter, it is 95 percent effective seven days after the second dose. According to Moderna’s data, it is 94.1 percent effective. 

Why do we have to get a second dose of the vaccine?

If you want the full protection of the vaccine, you’ll have to get the second dose. In an FDA analysis of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, after only one dose, a little more than 50 percent of participants were still protected from the virus. But that jumped up to 95 percent after the second dose. 

That applies to the Moderna and Astra-Zeneca vaccines as well. 

What are the side effects of the vaccine?

WITF, a station in Pennsylvania, asked that question of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Dr. William Moss.

He said at this point, we only know the short-term side effects – which appear in about 5-15 percent of participants.

Those include inflammation, soreness at the injection site, a low-grade fever, headaches, muscle aches and fatigue. These can last from 12 to 36 hours after vaccination.

Contact Lauren at lchapman@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @laurenechapman_.