COVID-19 update: Vaccine arrives as Monroe County adds to death count

At Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders to talk about response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the counterpoint to the increasing number of deaths was news from IU Health that the first 15 doses of vaccine had been administered in Monroe County.

According to Brian Shockney, who’s president of IU Health’s south central region, the 15 “frontline healthcare heroes” who received the vaccine Friday morning amounted to a “practice run.” Starting Monday, Shockney said, IU Health will be vaccinating up to 350 people per day in Bloomington and over 150 per day in Paoli.

Shockey stressed that it’s the number of people who are being vaccinated that is important, not the number of doses that are being shipped. He pegged 70 percent as the minimum fraction of the population that need to get the vaccine to achieve widespread immunity to COVID-19.

Leading off the press conference was Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton, who talked about the increased number of COVID-19 deaths the county has seen recently. After long stretches in the summer when no deaths were recorded, the county has seen an average of two COVID-19 deaths a day over the last few days, he said.

Another way to think about the recent upward trend for COVID-19 deaths is that half of the 79 deaths in Monroe County have come since Nov. 4. At around 53 per 100,000 residents, that number still makes for one of the lowest per capita rates among the 92 counties in the state of Indiana.

Hamilton put a personal point on the impact of COVID-19, saying that his mother-in-law died while his wife, Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen, was in the hospital with COVID-19.

Hamilton himself is thought to have likely contracted the disease, even though he twice tested negative. But an antibody test administered later was positive. The city’s press releases on new positive tests among city employees include in their boilerplate about past diagnoses a reference to the mayor’s test: “An additional City employee reported a positive COVID-19 antibody test result.”

Hamilton said the pandemic means that his family won’t be getting together for Christmas, even though “we love getting together, it is one of the highlights of the year.”

Shockney described the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna as “a very safe vaccine.” Shockney reported that based on a survey of IU Health physicians, 93 percent said they would be and will get vaccinated.

Asked if that 93 percent was not a bit low, Shockney contrasted that figure with surveys of the public. He said between 50 to 60 percent of the public say they will get vaccinated. He added that 3 percent of physicians were neutral, not against getting vaccinated.

Shockney added that some of IU Health’s physicians who were surveyed have had COVID-19. And if you’ve had COVID, the recommendation is that you wait 90 days before you get in line to get the vaccine, he said. For some people, getting vaccinated is not advised, because of health reasons. Given those factors, Shockney called 93 percent “a very high number.”

Shockney responded to a question about media announcements with the number of vaccine doses getting distributed—given that each person needs two shots to achieve maximum protection. Shockney said the number of people getting the the complete vaccine is the important statistic to focus on.

“I would say we really need to focus on the number of people who are being vaccinated, because that’s really what is going to get us out of this pandemic,” Shockney said. He added, “If we don’t get 70-plus percent vaccinated, herd immunity, we will still be sitting here on the screen next December.”

Based on remarks from Shockney and others, it’s possible that the number of people vaccinated will be made public in the same way COVID-19 cases have been, on some kind of dashboard.

Charts included in this article are based on Indiana’s state department of health dashboard from Friday, Dec. 18. The word from the state on Saturday was that the usual noon update of the dashboard would be delayed.

[Updated at 1:52 p.m. on Dec. 19, 2020: The dashboard through midnight Friday has been updated. Two additional deaths were logged for Monroe County, bringing the total to 82.]

Director of media relations Chuck Carney said next week’s regular press conference would not take place, due to the holidays. The week after that, the weekly event will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 30 at 2:45 p.m. The event is live streamed on the city of Bloomington’s Facebook page.

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