Vaccine eligibility expands as Indiana tries to get more adults to sign up

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — While the eligibility for the coronavirus vaccine continues to expand, state health officials admit, in some ways, that’s not a good thing.

It’s a sign that too many people who are eligible to get their shot are not signing up. Officials hope word of mouth and peer pressure can help raise the numbers.

Their message is echoed by Dr. Warren Gavin and other physicians who are on the front lines. He said just because you think you’re young and you think you’re healthy doesn’t mean that’s the truth.

“I can tell you, younger individuals do get sick,” said Gavin, who is a hospitalist at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

For the last year, he’s been working on a floor that consistently gets the most COVID patients at Methodist and University hospitals.

“I see patients in their 40s. I have seen patients in their 30s,” Gavin said.

That’s one of the messages state health officials are trying to push, too.

Officials presented a graph showing while more than 70% of Hoosiers in their 70s and 80s have the vaccine or are scheduled to get a shot, it’s only 43% for people in their 50s.

“Even though you may fancy yourself healthy and think you would probably do fine, a lot of people in their 40s and 50s have underlying conditions they’re not aware of yet,” said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the state’s chief medical officer.

Gavin said it’s something he sees consistently from people who come to the hospital, some who haven’t seen a doctor in years or even decades.

“You say, ‘Well, what medical problems do you have?’ They say, ‘No, I don’t have any medical problems. And then by the time they leave the hospitalization, we’ve diagnosed them with diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol.”

It’s a part of the reason state health officials say someone in their 40s is 10 times more likely to die if they get the coronavirus than someone in their 20s.

They also said more work needs to be done to get people to sign up with word of mouth and peer pressure being very helpful, especially for reluctant populations like younger adults, minorities and those in rural areas.

State health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box got a little choked up during the governor’s weekly news conference telling a story about two elderly couples who have been vaccinated and just went out to dinner together to celebrate all the holidays they have missed at once: birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas.

“It really just brings tears to your eyes to know that people can go back now and do those things you want to do, be at your kid’s ballgames,” Box said. “That’s the message that we need to get out. This is how we get to where we need to be in the future.”

For Gavin, he’s gone from seeing 15 patients daily with COVID to about four.

“It’s so refreshing to go in and see pancreatitis and to see the things I strangely miss seeing,” he said and laughed.

He wants to keep it that way, thanks to even younger, supposedly healthier adults getting their shots.

“I truly believe that this vaccination is making a difference,” Gavin said. “I truly feel that we have COVID on the ropes here and I think we continue to get vaccinated and we all work together, we can move past it.”

State health officials have opened up eligibility to pregnant women and said they plan to expand eligibility to people 40 and up soon.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said he will be giving a speech on 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to provide a roadmap to the future.