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Winter storm delays Indiana COVID-19 vaccine expansion plans

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP): A winter storm that coated Indiana with heavy snow has disrupted thousands of coronavirus vaccine appointments and delayed the state’s timeline for expanding shots to additional populations.

More than 80 clinics around the state closed due to the weather, and upwards of 43,000 vaccine appointments will need to be rescheduled, the state health department’s chief medical officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver announced Wednesday.

Most clinics did not remove vaccines from their freezers ahead of the winter weather, which spared doses from being wasted, Weaver said.

Vaccine shipments to Indiana were also interrupted, health officials said. By Wednesday, the state still had not received its weekly allocation of Moderna vaccines.

As a result, Indiana won’t yet expand vaccine eligibility beyond those aged 65 and older. Health officials said they hope to make shots available to the next age group — the state’s 432,000 60- to 64-year-olds — as early as next week, once shipments get back on schedule.

“We will see how the weather continues to impact our shipments, but hopefully we will be able to expand as soon as sometime next week,” Weaver said, emphasizing that the state will need a “large influx” of the vaccine before further widening eligibility to the 858,000 Hoosiers aged 50 and above.

There is still no timeline in place for Indiana’s teachers and other essential workers to become eligible for COVID-19 shots, however.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said Indiana should be getting a “small increase” in vaccine doses moving forward, although he expressed concerns about vaccines that will soon be provided to federally qualified health centers and community health clinics within Indiana.

The Republican governor said health officials want to be able to monitor “need and supply” with the state’s current system, in addition to tracking who is getting vaccinated.

“We’re never going to turn away more doses, we love that,” Holcomb said Wednesday. “But we want to know where the doses are going.”

Weaver said more than 60% of the state’s eligible populations have already been vaccinated or have appointments to get shots.

That total includes about 57% of Hoosiers 80 and older, 65% of Hoosiers aged 70, and older, and 56% of Hoosiers aged 65 to 69. The number also includes about 68% of eligible health care workers and first responders, in addition to nearly 98,000 doses that have been administered to residents and staff in long-term care facilities, Weaver said.

To date, about 17,000 out-of-state residents have received vaccines who live in neighboring states but work in Indiana.

Weaver maintained the state’s vaccine wastage “has been minimal,” noting that of the more than 1.3 million doses Indiana has received so far, only 172 doses have been lost.

As Indiana’s rates of new COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths continued a steep decline after peaking in early December, state health officials additionally lowered the risk level for COVID-19 spread in more counties.

The state Department of Health on Wednesday reported 933 new coronavirus infections, bringing the total number of Hoosiers known to have the virus up to 651,453.

Health officials also added 20 recent coronavirus deaths to the statewide total, pushing it to 12,250 fatalities including both confirmed and presumed COVID-19 infections.

The health department reported that 955 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Tuesday at Indiana’s hospitals. That marks the first time since Oct. 4 that fewer than 1,000 COVID-19 patients were recorded by the state.

The state Department of Health’s weekly tracking map updated Wednesday labels no counties in the highest-risk red category for the first time since late September. That is down from 73 of the 92 counties in that category last month.

This week’s map lists eight counties in the next-riskiest orange category, a drop from 40 one week earlier.

“Our color-coded county maps look the best that they have looked in months. This is all positive news,” said Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner. “We continue to move in the right direction, but please, please continue to wear your masks, stay socially distanced and stay home when you’re sick and get tested.”

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