COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy apparent in Michiana and throughout Indiana

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About half of all Hoosiers are either vaccinated against COVID-19 or in the process of doing it. The state health department is trying to reach the other half.

State health commissioner Kristina Box says about 20-percent of Hoosiers don’t trust or don’t want the vaccine. But she says another 20-or-30-percent have simply put it off, either because side effects would have interfered with final exams or other commitments or because it wasn’t convenient.

Locally, a vaccination clinic at the Tolson Center in Elkhart was supposed to administer 2,700 doses last week, but only gave out 540, according to The Elkhart Truth. Only 65 people showed up for a clinic held at the Century Center in South Bend, with more than 1000 doses of the vaccine available, according to ABC 57.

Health officials are trying to reach both groups, but Box says the true vaccine skeptics are best reached by those close to them. She says the health department is working to eliminate convenience barriers for that second group.

Health department chief medical officer Lindsay Weaver says people have been more willing to get the shot when it’s offered in places where they’re comfortable, from churches to community centers. She says some people say they’re waiting till they can get vaccinated at their doctor’s office. That’s tricky because of the vaccine’s ultracold storage requirements and the desire to avoid wasting unused doses, but Weaver says the state hopes to make that happen by the end of May.

And Weaver says while the state has been promoting the vaccine since it became available to the oldest Hoosiers in January, some people don’t listen to the news or read social media. While some people complained about text alerts promoting mass vaccination clinics in Gary and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Weaver says vaccinations doubled at both locations after the alerts went out — she says many people didn’t know they were happening until the alerts went out. She says the state may use that method again, but “sparingly.”

Box says vaccination rates are lowest in rural areas, many of which have few vaccination sites. She says she believes vaccine hesitancy is more of an issue there than access, but says the health department is working to expand availability.

Box says many of the reasons people give for not wanting the vaccine are false. She says even those who have already had the virus can still be reinfected — while it’s not clear how long the vaccine’s protection lasts, it’s believed to be longer than that of the antibodies your body creates while you’re sick. And while people with underlying health conditions are most at risk of serious illness, Box notes the virus can still rock those who are otherwise healthy, or thought they were. She says studies are revealing longer-term ailments even among people who don’t require hospitalization during the initial infection.

The vaccine hasn’t been approved yet for kids under 16, though Pfizer is seeking approval for kids as young as 12. Box says the state is talking with schools about setting up vaccination clinics over the summer if the F-D-A grants that approval.

Of those already eligible, one-third have been fully vaccinated. Another 12-percent have gotten the first dose of a two-dose vaccine. Weaver says about 140-thousand people have made appointments for their first dose — that’s about three-percent. And most clinics are now giving vaccines on a walk-in basis, without requiring an appointment.

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