Far more Bartholomew County residents have been getting their COVID-19 booster shots than the number of those who have opted to start the vaccination process, which has fallen to pandemic lows over the past couple of weeks.
A total of 937 Bartholomew County residents got their COVID-19 booster shots the week ending Oct. 23, compared to 192 who received their initial dose — tied with the week before for the lowest weekly total since vaccinations started in December, according to the Indiana Department of Health.
By comparison, 361 Bartholomew County residents got their first doses during the first full week of vaccinations in mid-December, when the vaccines were still in limited supply.
Overall, about 68% of all COVID-19 shots administered to Bartholomew County residents so far this month have been booster shots for people who had previously been fully vaccinated. About 81% of all vaccine doses administered during the first five days of last week were boosters.
The numbers, however, do not come as surprise to local health officials, who have repeatedly voiced their concerns and disappointment with the dwindling number of people in Bartholomew County who are getting vaccinated.
And officials don’t anticipate a rush of people rolling up their sleeves for the first time until federal health officials authorize the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
“This isn’t surprising since individuals already vaccinated are lining up for the boosters as expected,” said Bartholomew County Health Officer Dr. Brian Niedbalski. “I foresee newly vaccinated numbers will continue to be low until the 5-to-11 age group is approved.”
Columbus Regional Health, for its part, has seen high demand for boosters at its standalone clinic at 1702 Keller Ave., but hospital officials say that getting initial doses into the arms of the unvaccinated remains their top priority.
Since reopening the clinic two days per week earlier this month, CRH has seen an average of 262 people come back for vaccinations, including an average of 70 walk-ins. However, most of those vaccinations were booster shots, CRH officials said.
Starting this week, CRH will be offering expanded hours at the clinic and will be open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting next week. Walk-in hours have been set for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the same days.
“We are glad to still see incremental progress on first vaccination, and to be honest, that remains a priority of ours,” said CRH spokeswoman Kelsey DeClue. “We really want people to get vaccinated, period, especially if they have not yet been vaccinated.”
The updated figures come as local health officials say the community is at a crucial juncture in the fight against COVID-19, hoping that Bartholomew County does not see a repeat of what happened this past winter, when cases, hospitalizations and deaths soared.
As of Thursday, COVID-19 hospitalizations at CRH remained higher than they have been during much of the pandemic, with 24 people hospitalized.
The trends being seen in Bartholomew County mirror those seen across the state.
Indiana has generally had one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, ranking 12th lowest as of Friday, with about 49.6% of the population fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, most infectious disease experts have estimated that at least 70% to 80%, perhaps more, of the total population will need to be fully vaccinated to reach herd immunity — the threshold experts believe is needed to stop uncontrolled spread of COVID-19.
But as the colder months loom, local health officials are bracing for what they believe could be another wave of infections.
“There is still another increase (in cases and hospitalizations) projected in the middle wintertime, January, February,” DeClue said. “It’s a time when we see an increase in hospitalizations, period. It’s exactly for that reason, people are indoors more, and germs circulate and survive longer and easier in those indoor environments.”
“It’s definitely something that we are concerned about,” DeClue added.