Health officials weigh in on expanded vaccine eligibility, immunity

Hoosiers ages 50 and older are now eligible to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccinations. Dropping the age bracket opens the process up to more people, but also puts a strain on the registration system, according to St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Mark Fox.

Fox said he expects Indiana to continue on with systematic drops in eligibility, rather than opening the age bracket up to 16 and older.

“I think it prioritizes, you know, obviously the people at the highest risk based on the age strata, and then going to those critical infrastructure workers,” Fox said. “It allows them to turn to some large employers who will distribute the vaccine themselves. And so, it puts less stress on the pharmacies or the health departments and things that are administering vaccine, otherwise.”

The only limitation then becomes how much vaccine is available, according to Fox.

Moderna announced the decision to drop clinical trials from age six months to 11 years of age. The move is an important step, not only for kids, but for herd immunity, according to Fox. Herd immunity is when enough people are immune so the virus does not spread.

At least 70% of the entire population must be vaccinated, according to Fox. Fox said with nobody under the age of 16 currently eligible, that removes 20% of the population, meaning nearly every adult would need to get vaccinated.

In adolescent clinical trials, researchers will consider two key factors including the appropriate dosage and the effectiveness.

“So there are two different aspects to the studies that need to be done in that age range, but it certainly gives us hope that maybe by the fall there would be an approved vaccine, or, you know, younger school aged kids, which just will make return to school safer all the way around,” Fox said.

As more people become eligible for the vaccine, ABC57 Investigates continues to answer popular questions about the vaccine process.

Those who receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines will have to get a second dose, but health experts said it does not necessarily have to be exactly 21 days after.

“You can go up to 42 days after or about 6 weeks after that first shot before receiving your second without losing any of the effectiveness of the vaccine,” Spokesperson for the Berrien County Health Department Gillian Conrad said.

“And yet, if you’re beyond 42 days for whatever reason…you’re traveling, you’re in a car accident, whatever it is that prevents you from getting it in 42 days, it doesn’t mean that you have to start the series over again.” Fox said.

Both Fox and Conrad advised keeping the second dose appointment if possible because it can be difficult to reschedule.

Efficacy after the first dose is relatively strong, even upwards of 80% with Moderna, but people will get the most protection from two doses, according to Conrad.

“There are two paths to immunity with any virus,” Conrad said. “One of those is through vaccination and the other is getting the virus and surviving it. The point in having immunity is that your body has the antibodies, and your immune system is able to fight off the virus if it ever were to encounter it in the future."

“And so that’s why, even for people who’ve had a COVID infection, there’s a benefit to getting the vaccine because it will extend that duration of immunity,” Fox said.

Health officials encourage teachers to get vaccinated as most of the data coming from schools shows the biggest risk is from teachers infecting students, not the other way around, according to Fox. 

“And so, you know, I think it’s unfortunate and yet, you know, most of the employees around town, both healthcare and educational institutions aren’t strictly speaking requiring vaccine in part because it’s under an emergency use authorization,” Fox said. “You know, I think if it were a fully approved vaccine, they might feel kind of more adamant about requiring it.”

Share this article: