INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana dropped its vaccine eligibility to age 50 on Wednesday and Gov. Eric Holcomb also encouraged teachers younger than that to use the federal pharmacy program.
"We've been through a lot together and we're going to get out of this together," the governor said during his weekly COVID-19 briefing.
The federal program will prioritize teachers nationwide and its Indiana partners are Meijer, Kroger and Walmart. Hoosiers cannot use the centralized state registration site for that -- instead having to go directly through those retailers. Anecdotally, some of those pharmacies were making appointments for teachers Wednesday and some weren’t yet.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 31% of Hoosier educators are aged 50 or above and now eligible through the state sites. The rest can use the federal program.
Indiana will next move to vaccinating Hoosiers in their 40s, officials said Wednesday.
"We are very methodically mowing it down," Holcomb said.
Overall, 1,031,266 Hoosiers have received their first dose of the vaccine and 608,638 are fully vaccinated.
The state reported 786 new cases Wednesday and nine new deaths. Allen County saw 57 new cases and one death.
The state positivity rate has dropped to 3.5% and no counties are in red or orange. All are in blue or yellow -- the lowest levels of spread.
But don’t expect Holcomb to drop Indiana’s mask mandate or public health emergency as the Texas and Mississippi governors did. He said he is focusing on Indiana data and is "happy with the path we are on." Indiana's orders run through March.
Congressman Jim Banks, R-3rd, tweeted "Indiana: Let’s be next!" after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ended the state mask mandate on Tuesday.
Holcomb said he and Banks are good friends but he hasn’t spoken directly with the congressman on the topic. He said he understands the sentiment but is focusing on Indiana.
On Tuesday, Indiana opened up the 55-59 eligibility based on vaccine shipments supply and a day later dropped it to 50-54.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said the plan is to continue using the age-based approach until at least 40. Doing that allows the state to capture many with underlying health conditions that make a person more vulnerable.
Box said older Hoosiers have a higher likelihood of hospitalizations and deaths. She said the state is not abandoning a plan to move to critical infrastructure workers in Phase 2. The state is still in Phase 1B.
Originally the state’s plan would have stopped the age-based approach at 65.
"We have not vaccinated all the vulnerable Hoosiers we would like to vaccinate yet," said Dr. Lindsay Weaver.
Holcomb announced he would get his vaccine on Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during a mass vaccination clinic expected to process 4,200 Hoosiers. He is 52 and now eligible -- "I’m not cutting the line."
Box said the new one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is highly effective and she encouraged Hoosiers to get whatever vaccine they can. While the efficacy for the one-dose vaccine is lower than Pfizer and Moderna, she said those trials were done earlier and in different circumstances, making comparisons difficult. For instance, several of the variant strains were present during the Johnson & Johnson trials.