INDIANA — LifeSpring Health Systems has been selected as one of the 14 community health centers in Indiana to receive additional COVID-19 vaccine supply directly from the federal government in addition to the state allocation it will continue to receive.

The Southern Indiana health center is among 700 facilities across the U.S. tagged in the second round of boosted supply as part of an initiative by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control. A news release said the initiative is to help make vaccine access more equitable to underserved communities, including minority and rural populations, those experiencing homelessness and lower-income residents.

This round adds to the 250 centers previously chosen to receive the additional doses for a total of 950, but federal health officials hope to expand that to more as vaccine supply increases.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said Beth Keeney, senior vice president for Community Health at LifeSpring. “We’re really excited to be able to offer more vaccines to our patients and the community as well.”

LifeSpring’s state allocation now is 200 doses of Moderna per week, but staff were also able to vaccinate a few less than 200 of the unsheltered population in Southern Indiana last week with a special 200-dose allocation of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Keeney said that in total, they’ve given about 1,400 doses of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson combined.

The plan means a greater chance that some populations get the vaccine, especially those disproportionately affected by COVID. Of the roughly 30 million people served at HSRA-funded health centers in the U.S. each year, more than 91% are individuals or families living at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, the news release said. Nearly 63% are racial or ethnic minorities or both.

“We have interpreters on staff, we do a lot of outreach to low- and moderate-income populations who may not access health care otherwise in the traditional health care sense, so we’re really doing everything we can to get those folks in for vaccinations,” she said. LifeSpring also serves a higher population of elderly residents and people with mental health issues or substance use disorders or both.

“We know that going to a mass [vaccination] site can be really overwhelming or even difficult due to transportation or other barriers,” she said. “So getting it at the doctor’s office where they might be getting other health services is a really easy way for them to access vaccinations.

“Vaccines don’t increase the overall level of herd immunity, vaccines in arms do. So it’s just really important that we make sure vaccines are available where the population is.”

Dr. Eric Yazel, Clark County health officer and chief medical officer at LifeSpring, called LifeSpring “a medical home for people who might not get that care elsewhere” and stressed the importance of making sure those patients and the marginalized populations have greater access to vaccines.

Keeney said she doesn’t yet know when LifeSpring will receive the additional doses or whether it will be Moderna or Johnson & Johnson but if she has a choice, will opt for the one-shot Johnson & Johnson, which has also preliminarily shown lesser side effects than the first two vaccines approved in the U.S.

Health centers receiving the federal allocation will still be required to follow state guidelines in administration, storage and handling of the vaccine.

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