As COVID-19 vaccination demand wanes, hospital clinics closing

·6 min read

May 18—SOUTHERN INDIANA — With the demand for COVID-19 vaccines dropping significantly over the past four weeks, Southern Indiana hospitals are closing their mass vaccination clinics and health departments are switching to more targeted efforts for immunizations.

On Dec. 14, Clark Memorial Health became the second location in the state to administer the first of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Emergency Authorization Use. Baptist Health Floyd began its drive-through clinic the same week.

On Thursday, Clark Memorial closed its clinic after having administered about 50,000 vaccinations, including the first and second doses required with the Pfizer and Moderna products. Baptist Health Floyd's clinic will continue through Friday, at which point it will also have reached some 50,000 doses given.

DROPPING FAST

Initially, shots were available only to heath care professionals and first responders. Age-based tiers followed, starting with the most vulnerable older adults who are much more likely to have a severe case if they contract COVID. The first months of the clinics were packed, with people eager to get the shots when they had the opportunity.

Health officials previously reported seeing a drop in appointments as the eligibility age lowered to the 50s. And now, as more sites have begun offering shots and as more of the community has been vaccinated, the hospital clinics have slowed even further.

Brian Cox, director of operations at Baptist Health Floyd, said that when they were at capacity, the hospital clinic was seeing 420 to 450 people a day, seven days a week. Most recently, it's been 100 to 110 a day.

"It's dropping precipitously every day," Cox said. "There's still availability with the health departments even with the Pfizer vaccine, so it didn't make sense for us to continue long-term with that waning interest across the country."

Similarly, Clark Memorial Pharmacy Director Lance Ballard said they started to notice a shift a few weeks ago.

"We started looking at the volumes and scheduling and noticed that there was just a greatly reduced need," he said. "We had capacity for over 600 a day and we were seeing in the 70 to 150 a day range. When you have another mass [vaccination] site with the Clark County Health Department going, we felt it was time just to step out and let them take it on.

"I think we vaccinated everybody that wanted to get it [right away], at least the vast majority."

CHANGE IN FOCUS

The health departments in Clark and Floyd counties are also going to be changing the way they offer vaccinations.

At the start of the year, Clark County opened a site on Lewis and Clark Parkway. Floyd County has operated a drive-through line at IU Southeast in New Albany.

Floyd County will be transitioning operations to the health department building on June 1, with appointments and walk-ins available. Clark County Health Department Administrator Doug Bentfield said he and Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel will re-evaluate in June to determine if they need a site as large as they've had.

Both counties are also now preparing for more targeted efforts to set up in neighborhoods or at workplaces to help vaccinate people who did not go to the larger sites.

"I think we're moving to a point where we're going to have to bring the vaccine into more immediate communities to try and reach more people," Bentfield said. "I think we need to reach out to our rural communities. I think we need to get to New Washington and set up shop to make sure that people who may not come to Jeffersonville that often have as much access to the vaccine as we've done in the metro areas."

Floyd County Health Officer Dr. Tom Harris added that since they're eligible as of last week "the focus now is to get the 12 and up people ready for school in the fall," he said. "We're going to hold some clinics with New Albany Floyd County schools to make sure we get...those age groups."

CASE NUMBERS DROP

He and other local health officials say the large sites were crucial in the first months of shot availability and have played a huge role in getting the community vaccinated as shown by the drop in COVID case counts.

"We really appreciate the efforts of especially Baptist Health Floyd in vaccinating people in the community," Harris said. "Their original plan was just to do employees and they broadened their scope. We think a lot of the benefits with decreased percentages relates to their efforts and vaccinating a whole lot of people."

Clark County had seven new cases reported by the Indiana State Department of Health Tuesday; Floyd County had two. Neither county had new deaths reported that day.

The state health department shows Clark County with a seven-day positivity rate for unique individuals of 11.4%, with 4.3% the seven-day rate for all tests. Floyd County has a seven-day positivity rate of 2.6%, with a seven-day rate for all tests of 1.8%. Floyd County's locally-tracked positivity index is 2.11%, less than half the 5.17% it was just over a month ago.

"I'm really happy with where we're at," Yazel said. "We've been in single digits in hospitalizations for quite a while in Clark, we've got north of 45,000 people vaccinated, more than a third of our county. You add another 10 or 15% that had it naturally, you're starting to talk about getting closer to that herd immunity number."

He said although he'd expected a bigger bump in new cases in April after spring break and the lifting of the state mask mandate, "we just didn't see it which tells us that we're pretty well positioned."

COMMUNITY EFFORT

The health officials also say they are proud of the way so many people from different sectors worked together to make the mass vaccination sites possible when they were so crucially needed.

"It was something that we generated with very little notice and I think people in the community can be proud of it," Harris said. "You had volunteer support, you had people working overtime from the department, IUS was a wonderful host...the community really came together."

Ballard and Cox both spoke of the positivity of the hospital clinics in Clark and Floyd County, one of the first rays of hope after months of the pandemic.

At Baptist Health Floyd, the December vaccinations began a week or so after the hospital's record of 73 patients being treated for COVID at one time.

"We were glad to play a role and help," Cox said. "We appreciate the community's trust in us to provide them the vaccine; I think a lot of people appreciated being at the hospital to get it.

"It was good for us too, to see a positive side, for people to come in and get their vaccinations who hadn't been out of the house in months."

"It was a very positive kind of energy; it gave hope when there was little hope," Ballard said. "And I don't think any of us saw us coming out of this so quickly, that we would be essentially at this return to normalcy so fast.

"It was just great to be able to help our community. Our mission is making communities healthier, [and] I feel like we actually got to live our mission."

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