Indiana contemplating own strategic medical stockpile following national shortages

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Indiana is “seriously considering” creating its own stockpile of critical medical supplies after struggling to get stock from the Strategic National Stockpile during the COVID-19 pandemic, former State Health Commissioner Kris Box said Wednesday.

And Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said he lost no sleep over his pandemic-era policy choices—mitigation measures that earned him praise from other states’ health and political leaders Wednesday but backlash from some Hoosiers concerned about government overreach.

Box, Holcomb and other key figures spoke during an Indianapolis meeting of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense. The group formed in 2014 to assess and improve the nation’s capacity to defend itself from biological threats.

Stockpile under study

There’s a new vaccine available for the latest variant of COVID-19, and a new round of free, rapid at-home tests — courtesy of the federal government — to go along with it. Holcomb received his flu and COVID-19 shots Wednesday, according to his official X account.

But for Box, who led Indiana’s health apparatus for more than five years until this May, the tests are a reminder of one way Indiana struggled during the pandemic.

“I think it’s a perfect example of where the federal government decided to amass those quick tests at the federal level so that they would be able to push them out,” Box said. “… And we were using them to screen people at these mass-testing sites, and the sites that we had all over. And all of a sudden, our suppliers could no longer give them to us because so many were going to the federal government.”

That forced the state to run more lab tests—with results taking days rather than minutes—which Box said delayed quarantines and medication referrals. She also said Indiana struggled to get swabs, viral transport medium and other supplies.

When Indiana did receive equipment from the Strategic National Stockpile, it was “oftentimes” out-of-date, according to Box—although she noted, “We used it anyway, of course.”

Box said Indiana is “seriously considering” launching a state-level stockpile. Hoosier leaders, she added, have had “significant discussions” about the prospect.

She favored a regional approach, with multiple stockpiles dedicated to specific areas of the state.

The Indiana Department of Health didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Holcomb defends decisions

Holcomb received glowing praise from commission members—all former health and political leaders from across the country—for his leadership at the height of the pandemic and his post-crisis efforts to better fund public health.

That’s despite significant pushback from other Hoosier leaders, and everyday residents.

Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg told Holcomb he “seemed remarkably able to maintain public trust and confidence,” when other states and countries experienced a “denigration of public health expertise.”

Holcomb emphasized the importance of listening to experts and being transparent.

But to reporters, he later said, “I don’t have any regrets because I was operating with the information that I had at the time.”

“Put yourself in a situation where you have multiple experts not agreeing with one another,” Holcomb said. “And then you have to make the decision.”

Holcomb said he was “very comfortable” with his choices, adding, “(I) slept well every night—even though it was a very heavy time for our state.”

And he said Indiana was flourishing post-pandemic—less a “rebound” and more a “launch out.”

Holcomb cited high Hoosier single-family house building permit issuances as one reference point, above more populated Midwest states like Illinois and Ohio.

“We’re growing,” he added. “So, you know, I get it: to each their own. Everyone’s got an opinion.”

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.

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