INDIANAPOLIS — "Save the most lives while reducing hospitalizations."
That's Indiana's succinct mission statement as it moves into the second phase of vaccine distribution as it begins with the oldest Hoosiers and works its way backward.
Starting Friday, Hoosiers 80 years old and older can start setting up appointments to get vaccinated.
With the vast majority of deaths and hospitalizations coming among Hoosiers 60-plus, Indiana has decided those older residents are the next highest priority to get vaccinated.
"Taking this by age eligibility will keep this not just methodical but will eat into where we have the most vulnerable Hoosiers at risk," Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said Wednesday as he addressed the state in an press conference heavy with updates about vaccine distribution.
Indiana received its first doses of COVID-19 in mid-December and immediate went to work vaccinating front-line health care workers as its top priority, as those people are required to care for others and are extremely high-risk since they are frequently in contact with infected patients or material.
As of Tuesday, more than 128,000 Hoosiers had received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine as well as 585 who have received the second of the two-shot regimen and therefore are considered fully vaccinated.
With health care workers lined up and getting vaccinated every day, Indiana is now looking forward to who will get the vaccine next and that answer has fallen on the oldest Hoosiers as the state has already made good progress into vaccinating its health care workers.
"We are moving very quickly, 140,000 of the roughly 400,000 healthcare providers," have already received their first shot, Indiana State Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver.
States are allowed to make their own decisions about who is eligible to get the limited of supply of vaccines when and Indiana's expert panel followed the data to make the second group.
Hoosiers 80 years old and older account for just 3.8% of the population but have been 19% of the total hospitalizations and 52% of the state's deaths.
When expanded out to include all Hoosiers 60 and up, those numbers are even more stark. At 22.5% of Hoosiers, those 60 and older are about 2-in-3 hospitalizations (64.1%) and almost all of the state's deaths at 93.3%.
"Hoosiers can rest assured an incredible team of experts have looked at the data to best achieve these results," Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said.
The state has already started vaccinating residents of long-term care facilities, so the signups are aimed at primarily at people living outside nursing homes, as those older people will be vaccinated at their facility through ongoing programs.
Indiana State Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver said Hoosiers 80 years old and older can begin signing up for appointments starting Friday at 9 a.m.
Hoosiers can log on to ourshot.in.gov starting Friday morning to sign up for an appointment. Since many older people may not be skilled with computers, Weaver noted that family members can log on to sign up for them as long as the person comes to their appointment with a photo ID to prove their identity.
For those who don't have internet access or don't have someone who can log on, Hoosiers will also be able to call 2-1-1 and get help setting up an appointment between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Hoosiers should be able to find a vaccination site rather locally, as the state will ensure at least one vaccination site in every county.
In total, there are current 148 clinics statewide with 55 at hospitals, 91 run by health departments and two pharmacy locations.
While Indiana is looking to start vaccinating 80-plus people as soon as possible, the state doesn't have an exact time frame for when people in their 70s can start making appointments. That eligibility will depend on how many doses are delivered to the state and how many people sign up to get them.
Weaver noted that the state is expecting to get approximately 78,000 doses delivered per week through the end of the month. With approximately 257,000 Hoosiers 80-plus, it will likely take a few weeks before those in their 70s get their shot.
Somewhere down the line after Indiana completes its vaccinations of people in their 60s, the state hasn't made any concrete decisions about who will be up next.
The vaccine is free for anyone to receive. When asked about whether non-citizens will be eligible for vaccines — the question came in relation to meat-packing plants that may employ undocumented workers — Box said that anyone living or working in Indiana will be eligible and that the state does not collect or check citizenship information.
State health officials have continued to allay concerns about possible side effects and safety of the vaccine.
Minor side effects can occur after receiving the shot and Box noted that so far Indiana has had one one severe allergic reaction and that the person who received it was treated for that reaction and recovered well.
Marion County Health Officer Dr. Virginia Caine also took part in Wednesday's panel and encouraged older Hoosiers to get the vaccine because even those who recover may suffer long-term effects from the infection that could impact their organs, mind or quality of life.