State health officials are crafting the procedures they’ll use to decide who in Indiana is entitled to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, if and when the coronavirus prevention tool becomes available.

Dr. Kristina Box, the state health commissioner, said Wednesday she expects there will be an extremely limited supply of vaccine doses once the federal government approves a vaccine for widespread human use, perhaps just 10 million or 15 million doses for the 330 million people living in the United States.

If the treatment, expected to be in the form of an injection, is distributed to each state based on its share of the national population, Indiana might receive only 300,000 doses for its 6.7 million residents (2% of the U.S. population) in the first round.

It’s not yet known whether Indiana’s initial doses will be halved if two shots are required to protect recipients against the coronavirus, or how the state will fare if the vaccine is distributed nationwide based on imminent need and not by state population or some other formula.

In any case, Box said, the Indiana State Department of Health is preparing to identify which Hoosiers should get vaccine priority, and who in the state can continue following COVID-19 prevention practices, such as face mask wearing, social distancing and regular hand washing, until vaccine doses are more widely available.

“Indiana is using a team of experts to ethically look at, and medically look at, those individuals that should receive this immunization first here in the state of Indiana,” Box said without providing any additional details about the group’s deliberations.

The health commissioner also rejected the suggestion that vaccine development is being dangerously rushed to potentially help Republican President Donald Trump win a second term by allowing him to claim a COVID-19 cure prior to the Nov. 3 general election.

Fully vetting vaccine

She said Hoosiers should be confident when a vaccine comes out that it meets all applicable federal and state health and safety standards for immunizations.

“I want you to know that the pharmaceutical companies that are engaged in producing the vaccines are committed to not rolling out a vaccine until they have fully vetted that vaccine,” Box said.

She insisted the drug companies, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, are following the “highest standards for ethics, and highest standards for scientific principles, in developing these vaccines.”

“I feel like the pharmaceutical companies and the FDA have at their heart the absolute desire to ethically present to us, and scientifically, the best vaccines that they possibly can,” Box said.

In the absence of a vaccine, the state health agency is expanding COVID-19 testing, in partnership with county and municipal health departments, to 95 additional sites by Oct. 1, including five more testing sites in Lake County, three in Porter County and one in LaPorte County.

Each site is expected to conduct between 100 and 200 free COVID-19 tests per day to supplement the other state-funded and private testing programs and services already operating across Indiana.

Box said the $30 million cost for the 95 new testing sites is being provided through the federal CARES Act and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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