INDIANAPOLIS – State health officials expressed concern about coronavirus variants and discussed the effectiveness of vaccines in their first COVID-19 briefing for several weeks.
The State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box and Chief Medical Officer Lindsay Weaver said the alpha variant remained dominant in Indiana, while cases involving the delta variant have seen a significant increase in recent weeks.
The state’s positivity rate is 3.2% – from 2.1% at the end of June. COVID-19 admissions have also seen a slight increase recently. At the same time ̵
“We will see an increase in the delta variant,” Box said during Friday’s briefing, renewing calls for Hoosiers to be vaccinated.
The delta variant is more contagious than other variants. Box and Weaver are concerned about outbreaks in areas with low vaccination rates.
Box said she did not anticipate the return of COVID-19 restrictions across the state if Indiana saw an increase due to the delta variant. Cities and counties, on the other hand, may implement local restrictions depending on conditions.
In total, 2.9 million Hoosiers are fully vaccinated, representing about 49% of the eligible population. But vaccination doubts remain high in rural areas, Box and Weaver noted. They said they have been working to improve outreach in the areas of mobile clinics.
“We are disappointed,” Box said. “We’d rather be taller.”
In addition, they believe a few things may change the minds of those who are reluctant to get the shot: full FDA approval of the vaccine (which is currently under emergency use approval) or a recommendation from a person’s personal physician to get the vaccine.
“Right now, I think one of the obstacles for people is that it’s still under an emergency use permit,” Box said. “And we regularly hear in our meetings with the CDC and the White House that the FDA really needs to move. And if they have data like this is by far the most studied vaccine in world history, basically also for all the side effects it has been studied the most. So if we can get the FDA to move to officially approve this and license this, then I think it will help us with some people. ”
Vaccination rates are related to age, Box said, with less than half of Hoosiers 40 to 49 getting the shot. The vaccination rate decreases as the age group gets younger.
“Herd immunity is a very hazy thing, and a big part of it is how many people have been infected. As you know, we had a lot of asymptomatic infections, so it’s a very difficult thing to fix, ”Box said.
Box said there had been COVID-19 outbreaks in four long-term care facilities in Howard, Fulton, Gibson and Allen counties. The outbreak has included seven deaths among residents and 27 cases since mid-June, the majority of whom are people who were unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.
In the Howard County case, the alpha variant was confirmed as the culprit. Testing is underway on the other facilities.
The state has seen 2,720 “breakthrough cases” in which a person who received the vaccine tested positive for coronavirus. These cases led to 132 admissions and 46 deaths, according to state data. Many of the breakthrough deaths involved older Hoosiers, with state data putting the average age at 78.8 years old.
While officials did not update their guidelines for schools, they said they would follow new guidelines from the CDC. The agency released its guide at the same time as Box and Weaver held their briefing.
The CDC said vaccinated students and teachers do not have to wear masks in school buildings. The agency also does not recommend that schools mandate shots to teachers and students. For the Indian side, Box said she would not mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for students across the state.
In terms of masks, Box and Weaver said the state is seeing an increase in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) now that fewer Hoosiers are masking up. Cases are at a higher level than expected than this time of year, something they attributed to lifting of the state’s mask mandate.
Box also said vaccinated hoosiers who do not wear masks have a very low risk of infecting others. She would recommend masks to vaccinated individuals if they lived with a person with a weakened immune system.
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