SOUTHERN INDIANA — Local health departments have been seeing a steady flow of residents receiving COVID-19 vaccines in recent weeks as eligibility has expanded, including low-dose Pfizer vaccines for kids ages 5 to 11 and adults receiving their booster shot.
The officials say vaccination status is a key determining risk factor as people gather for holiday gatherings this season, and they continue to encourage those eligible to get their COVID-19 vaccines.
Floyd County Health Officer Dr. Tom Harris said the county has faced a spike in cases over the past four weeks, and he reports that this week’s COVID-19 index is now at 11.9% compared with 6.4% a few weeks ago.
The numbers started rising after Halloween, and Harris notes the risk of an increase after Thanksgiving and Christmas as people congregate with groups indoors and engage in activities such as Black Friday shopping.
Harris is encouraged to see a stronger turnout than expected for pediatric vaccinations in Floyd County, and the health department has already administered more than 600 of the low-dose Pfizer vaccines for children ages 5 to 11.
Floyd County’s overall vaccination rate is approaching 60%, but the rate in the population ages 20 to 40 has had the lowest vaccination rate at about 20%, Harris said. The county’s vaccination rate for people over age 60 is well over 90%.
Harris said he would also expect to administer vaccines to about 20% of kids eligible for the vaccine, since parents are likely in the 20 to 40 age range that has been less likely to get vaccinated themselves. However, he feels that Floyd County is actually “on pace to do more than that.”
The Floyd County Health Department has seen more vaccine appointments in the past couple of months as people have received their booster shots, and they now might vaccinate 200 people on a typical day.
Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel said COVID-19 cases have “plateaued a little bit” in the county. Last week, Clark County moved from the orange to yellow advisory level on the state’s color-coded map tracking COVID-19 spread, indicating a decrease in cases.
Yazel has also noticed a steady turnout for vaccines for ages 5 to 11, saying it is better than expected. He said Clark County’s vaccination rate is over 50%.
Eligibility has also opened up for all adults ages 18 and older to receive booster shots at least six months after their original series of shots. Since then, it hasn’t been a “mad rush” for the vaccines in Clark County, but many people have been showing up for their third shot this week, he said.
Yazel also expects to see an uptick in cases during the holidays, but he does not believe it will be as bad as last year due to protection from vaccinations.
He said “now is a great time to get your initial COVID-19 shots, get your booster or wherever you are in the process.”
“I do think it’s great that we’ve gone down to yellow — I’m happy where we’re at,” Yazel said. “I think we’ll see an upswing, so now is a good time to upgrade your immunity status.”
Harris urges people to not only get their COVID-19 vaccinations, but also get their flu shots to avoid a “double-whammy” this season.
“Last year we had protective measures and flu shots, and we had a really benign flu season,” he said. “We expect more flu illnesses this year.”
Yazel encourages people to enjoy time with family this holiday season, but he also advises people to take precautions and make “good, common sense decisions.”
“People are going to get together for Thanksgiving, and they should,” he said. “We all need to get together with family members and enjoy the holiday. My philosophy is to know your risk factors.”
If everyone at the get-together is fully vaccinated, Yazel said they can “enjoy a normal Thanksgiving like they have in past years,” especially if they have received their booster shots.”
Yazel said those who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 such as older populations and/or the unvaccinated should exercise caution, and they might consider steps such as spending shorter periods of time at gatherings rather than staying there all day.
For Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings, people might consider wearing a mask to protect high-risk family members to “err on the side of caution,” and testing for COVID-19 could also minimize the risk, according to Yazel.
Harris emphasizes the importance of people staying home if they are sick and urges people to get tested if they are showing any signs of COVID-19 or were exposed to COVID-19.
He also encourages people who are concerned about shopping to avoid the crowds or consider online shopping, and he advises mask-wearing indoors, especially in a crowded shopping environment.
“To me, it looks like Cyber Monday might be a better course of action than Black Friday, especially if it’s a situation where you are stacked up indoors in a line outside the store,” Harris said. “I wholeheartedly encourage people to wear a mask in that situation.”