INDIANAPOLIS — As of the weekend, more than 1,155 Whitley County residents have received at least their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, according to data provided by the Indiana State Department of Health.
Of those, 344 are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received their second and final dose of the vaccine.
The region has a long way to go, but local clinics are getting shots into arms as quickly as they receive them.
With about 33,600 residents in Whitley County, that means about 3.4% have received at least the first vaccine.
Vaccine eligibility is currently limited only to specific people as manufacturers continue to make and distribute vaccines to states, who then distribute to their individual counties.
Right now, health care workers, first responders such as police, fire and EMS and those 70 years old or older can sign up to get vaccines by visiting ourshot.in.gov or calling 2-1-1 for assistance getting signed up.
Other groups are not yet eligible. The state has already announced that people in their 60s will be the next eligible group, but signups have not opened for those Hoosiers yet. Indiana has not made any decisions on who will be able to get the vaccine after those 60-plus. It’s likely the general public won’t be eligible until spring or summer, depending on the supply of vaccines going forward.
Vaccination clinics are popping up all over northeast Indiana, including the Whitley County Health Department, Noble County Public Library in Albion, DeKalb County Fairgrounds in Auburn, LaGrange County Health Department, Steuben County Event Center and several hospitals in Fort Wayne.
Right now, however, demand is so high that residents aren’t even able to sign up for appointments.
Checking the ourshot.in.gov registration portal, clinics in Whitley, Noble, LaGrange and DeKalb counties are listed as “All Appointment Times Are Booked” and the button to schedule is currently grayed out and non-functioning.
Noble County Health Officer Dr. Terry Gaff confirmed that they can’t take any more appointments at this time, as the scheduling software being used across the state opens and closes based on a clinic’s supply of doses.
Vaccine clinics have a limited supply and a person needs to be scheduled for a second shot after they get their first, so the software sets appointments based on the expectation of having doses to give, Gaff said. It’s not an open-ended program allowing appointments to pile up far into the future.
“So we know that our allotment through January is 500 per week, as you look at the calendar that is merely two weeks and we don’t know our allotment after that, so it needs to be a fluid situation,” Gaff said. “It’s a system that is evolving.”
Alicia Walsh, of the Steuben County Health Department echoed the explanation, stating that appointment slots are being dictated by the number of vaccine arriving so that counties don’t overbook people and not have shots available to give when people show up.
“The schedule will continue to open up proportional to the number of doses that each local health department is scheduled to receive; which can change based on allotments,” she said.
For now, Gaff said residents who still need to get scheduled a vaccine will just have to check back periodically to see whether new appointments are opening up. As more vaccines become available, more appointments will be available. If supply rises, Gaff said the clinic could end up running six or seven days a week to get vaccines to people as quickly as possible.
“We will not hold back,” Gaff said. “We will keep moving forward but we don’t have complete control over the process. The state supplies the vaccine to us and they control our schedule to some to degree. But we won’t hold back.”
Statewide, as of Sunday, 296,799 people have received their first dose and 60,834 Hoosiers have been fully vaccinated.
That’s about 4.6% of the total population, so northeast Indiana’s vaccination rate is running a little behind that statewide rate.
Health officials estimate upward of 70% of people will need to gain immunity to COVID-19 either through vaccine or exposure in order for the population to achieve “herd immunity,” in which so many people are immune the virus is unable to chain effectively to unprotected persons.