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IU experts say new eligibility could come with challenges

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Posted at 9:05 PM, Mar 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-26 17:30:41-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Come March 31, Hoosiers ages 16 and older can sign up to receive their COVID-19 vaccination. Dr. Cynthia Brown, a pulmonologist with IU School of Medicine, and is also leading the AstraZeneca trial at IU, said opening up eligibility to so many people at once is a little bit concerning, but believes that if it goes well it’s a positive step towards herd immunity.

“It’s exciting because it will help us get the vaccine out to the people who are really engaged and excited to be able to get the vaccine,” Brown said. “As long as we are getting those vaccines in I think we’ll be able to meet the demand."

There is also concern that those who are eligible will not take advantage.

“I worry that the uptake in the younger age groups may not be as robust. Thinking that the disease is less severe in the younger ages, is it really something that is necessary,” Brown said.

The Indiana State Health Department has shown that people in younger age groups eligible for the vaccine are not signing up as quickly as older individuals. Some of the youngest people who will be eligible starting next week include college-aged students, and Hoosiers in their late teens and early 20s.

Dr. Cole Beeler, director of symptomatic testing for COVID-19 at IU, said interest from college students he’s talked to has been a mixed bag.

"Certainly we have a lot of students who are desperate to get the vaccine because they acknowledge they are around people who are at risk of getting COVID and we have certain people who are not interested in getting the vaccine,” Beeler said. “We have been seeing an increase in the willingness of students to get vaccines over time over the last three months.”

In order for Indiana to reach herd immunity, the point where enough people are vaccinated or immune so that those around them are safe from catching the virus, health experts said it all comes down to vaccine uptake.

“People have to be willing to get the vaccine. At the rate we are vaccinating we could potentially get to herd immunity, late summer early fall,” Brown said.

Brown also notes she is worried the system will not be able to meet the demand of people trying to sign up for appointments.

“I personally have tried to get on the Ourshot website to help register my husband for a vaccine and you see the appointment and you click on it but by the time you get to the end its gone. So I can only imagine the logistics that have to be in place in order to really be able to make this roll out something that’s smooth,” Brown explained.

She is hopeful that as more people become qualified for the vaccine, more young folks will become educated on the safety of the vaccine and why it’s important. It's a goal that Beeler is trying to accomplish on campus with students too.

“We’re doing our best we can in saying this is a vaccine that you’re not only getting this for yourself even though the risk to you as a typical college age student are pretty low, you’re getting it for the teachers, the faculty, and everyone else that’s around you that may be at risk for a bad outcome for covid," Beeler said.