Indiana’s COVID-19 vaccination pace falls to lowest level

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Indiana’s pace of COVID-19 vaccination shots has fallen to its lowest level since the shots became available last winter.

The state health department’s tracking shows Indiana giving about 6,000 shots a day through last week—about half the rate from early September. The state continues to lag behind the national vaccination rate, and Indiana’s pandemic death toll has topped 16,000 people when presumed COVID deaths are considered in the total.

Indiana peaked with an average of more than 50,000 shots a day in April as the COVID-19 vaccines became widely available. That declined until early summer when more people began getting the jabs at the same time that health officials blamed the more contagious delta variant for a steep jump in the state’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

Dr. Richard Feldman, who was state health commissioner under Democratic Gov. Frank O’Bannon, said he was concerned that the falling vaccination pace will leave too few people immunized, allowing COVID-19 to “smolder and smolder and smolder” through the population.

“I think a lot of people have just moved on, they’re tired of it,” Feldman said Tuesday. “I just don’t understand that reasoning.”

Indiana has consistently trailed the national vaccination rates, ranking 14th lowest in the country with 49% of all residents fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The national rate stands at 56.4%.

On its COVID dashboard, the state health department reported Tuesday afternoon that 60.3% of Indiana residents 18 and older were now fully vaccinated. By Tuesday night, that percentage had been changed to 58.6%, without explanation. The department, which couldn’t be reached immediately by IBJ to explain the change, had been reported a percentage higher than 58.6% in that category since Sept. 21.

Indiana hospitals were treating 1,729 COVID-19 patients as of Monday, according to the state health department. That is down about one-third from the latest surge’s peak four weeks ago but about 450% higher than before the surge started in July.

The state’s seven-day rolling average of deaths is about 30 a day, compared to about 40 a day in mid- and late-September and July’s low of fewer than five. Indiana passed the 16,000 mark in pandemic deaths in recent days when taking into account 523 presumed deaths. The official count of confirmed deaths is 15,585.

Gov. Eric Holcomb hasn’t participated in a state COVID-19 news briefing since late March soon after he announced he would let the statewide mask mandate expire even as he has continued renewing the state’s public health emergency that now extends until Oct. 31.

Holcomb said he continues to talk about the pandemic every day and urging vaccinations as the best way to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.

“We’ll continue to lean into making sure that those resources are readily accessible, easy to access, and we try to be as persuasive as we can,” Holcomb said Friday. “If people don’t want to take the vaccine, then that’s their right.”

Feldman said he was worried that another surge was possible as the weather turns colder and people are spending more time indoors at a time when face mask usage has noticeably declined.

It will be up to businesses to push greater vaccinations as political opposition among conservatives prevents state officials from mandating any safeguards “or really press individuals to try to do the right thing,” Feldman said.

“I mean they say it once in a while, but it’s not a priority,” Feldman said. “And it’s not politically feasible right now in this climate.”

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