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As Indiana lags in vaccinations, effect on health care system could be 'disastrous'

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Posted at 2:57 PM, Dec 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-02 21:00:06-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s stagnant vaccination rate will be “disastrous” for the state’s hospital systems as a winter surge takes hold and a new variant emerges, according to an Indiana professor.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show Indiana is 46th out of 50 states in terms of the percentage of the population that has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. The state is 40th in the nation when it comes to fully vaccinated residents, as of Thursday.

Only slightly more than half of Hoosiers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 55.7% have received at least one dose. Micah Pollak, an associate professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest who developed a following on social media for his analysis of Indiana's COVID-19 statistics, said this is a problem.

States with vaccination rates of 60-70% are experiencing increases in cases, Pollak said, and the general understanding is that states need 80% of their populations to get vaccinated in order to stamp out the virus.

“So that kind of just means that Indiana's stuck where we are because there's no way we're getting to 80% in the next few weeks,” Pollak said.

On Wednesday, the Indiana Department of Health reported more than 6,000 new COVID-19 cases for the first time since Jan. 8. The 2,244 people in the hospital with the virus were the most since Sept. 24, two weeks after the state reached its late summer peak following the arrival of the delta variant.

A state health department spokesperson said "the best way to prevent the spread of this new variant or any other variant is to get vaccinated, get a booster if you are eligible and wear a mask in indoor public settings or in a crowded environment."

Pollak argued that state and local leaders need to be “shouting from the rooftops” about the need for people to get vaccinated. Even if vaccine efficacy rates dip against omicron, Pollak said people who are vaccinated will still be much more protected against the virus than those who are not.

“We're going to have a big wave and we're going to have maybe a new variant here before too long, and do it for yourself at least if not for, you know, your family and friends and relatives and acquaintances,” Pollak said.

While Indiana has not reached the peak hospitalization numbers seen in the winter of 2020-21, Pollak noted that the toll on health care workers is already being felt more this year due to the high number of retirements and departures in the industry.

"We've had so many retirements, especially among nurses, people just burning out and leaving, so what I'm hearing up here and in Indy as well is that even though our hospitalization numbers are still well below the peak from last winter, things are actually worse at this point, simply because you don't have as many staff as you did last year," he said.

With COVID-19 patients filling hospital beds in Indiana, as during the summer delta surge, people with other health needs oftentimes find themselves waiting or going without care, and Pollak said it is only going to get worse.

Last year, he said, hospitals were able to increase the number of beds and keep staff expanded in order to accommodate the numbers of people requiring care.

“But, frankly, I think we’re close to not being able to fit them in where people are in the hospital as it is, and we’re 1,000 people below where we were last winter,” Pollak said. “I think a lot of people are disconnected from the health care system. If they realized how precarious the health care system is right now, that might change things.”

WRTV Real-Time Editor Daniel Bradley can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @dcbradley.