SELLERSBURG — Nearly 6,000 people will be vaccinated against COVID-19 in Sellersburg through Saturday at the second of three state-sponsored mass vaccination clinics using the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
On Friday morning, cars streamed onto the Ivy Tech Community College campus for the first of the 5,760 shots that will be given over two days at the drive-through clinic. Three lines of vehicles passed through white tents erected on the south side of campus, where doses can be administered to patients simultaneously.
Last week, roughly 17,000 people received the doses at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway clinic and there are 5,760 doses scheduled for the University of Notre Dame later this month. State health officials say appointments filled within a few days for each of the clinics.
Unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which require second doses either three or four weeks after the first, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine provides the full vaccination after one shot and does not require the cold storage the others do, making it the preferred choice for health officials hosting mass clinics. Southern Indiana health officials already have begun using the one-shot vaccine for local outreach efforts as well.
Those receiving doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can expect to reach their full immunity in about two weeks, which Indiana’s chief medical officer, Dr. Lindsay Weaver, said will add quickly to the overall protection against COVID-19.
“The wonderful thing about it is that one dose, the kind of one-and-done, then two weeks later they’re fully immunized,” Weaver said at a news conference Friday morning at Sellersburg. “That’s where we’re really excited to see the number fully immunized jumping up really quickly.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in late February, with about 1,000 doses arriving at Southern Indiana hospitals, health departments and at LifeSpring Health Systems over the past week. Weaver said as more becomes available, she hopes to see an increase in both the local supply and for additional mass vaccination clinics like the ones this month.
“We’re very hopeful that we will be getting more [vaccines] soon — especially the Johnson & Johnson — so we can offer sites like this across the state and get a lot of people pretty quickly and safely,” she said.
The state clinics are open to any Hoosier who fits the current eligibility, which recently was opened to include people 50 and older. Health care workers and first responders were the first to be eligible, followed by the age-based tier that began in January at 80 and older and has decreased in five- or 10-year increments. Indiana teachers are also able to get their shots at participating pharmacies, and Hoosiers with certain medical conditions can get appointments scheduled through their doctors’ offices.
Weaver said that almost 40% of Hoosiers ages 50 to 54 and more than 40% of those 55 to 59 have already registered for a shot.
Pfizer was the first vaccine to receive Emergency Use Authorization in the U.S. in mid-December, followed by Moderna. Since their rollouts, there have been around 76,000 doses administered in Southern Indiana between Baptist Health Floyd, Clark Memorial Health, the Clark and Floyd County health departments and LifeSpring.
Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel, who also spoke at the news conference alongside Weaver, said although there has been a degree of hesitancy from some, he’s been pleasantly surprised at the number of Southern Indiana residents who have jumped on board with getting vaccinated as soon as they were eligible.
“We’ve worked really hard to be transparent about the characteristics of the different vaccines and do a lot of community outreach,” Yazel said. “We’ve had a lot of community leaders get their shot [and] educate people on why they got their shot. I think that’s been effective in our rollout and I think our numbers have shown that.”
One such community representative taking the lead was Sellersburg Town Council member Brad Amos, who was the first to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Friday morning at the vaccination clinic.
“At first you’re normal, like anybody else you’re a little hesitant,” Amos said. “But I think for the betterness of the people you’re surrounded by and your loved ones, I think this was probably the best route for me to take for the community and everyone around me.”
Yazel said it was also a testament to everyone involved — including the state department of health, the Clark County Health Department and all of the volunteers and community support — to be able to be at this point with vaccinations a year after the first cases were identified in Southern Indiana, which presented in mid-March of last year in Floyd and Clark counties.
“What a crazy journey it’s been over the last year,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of highs and lows, but this is awesome — kind of a marvel of science a year from our first cases to be able to host a mass vaccination site.”
The Ivy Tech-Sellersburg clinic is staffed with assistance from New Chapel EMS, New Washington EMS, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Indiana National Guard.