Regardless of what gossipers had to say on Facebook this week, the Henry County Health Department is gearing up to start giving people the COVID-19 vaccine Monday morning.

Health Dept. Administrator Angela Cox said the vaccination clinic will be by appointment only and will run 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“Vaccines will be administered at our local office, 1201 Race Street, Suite 208. We will update everyone as our availability increases,” Cox said.

Cox explained that the Henry County COVID-19 Vaccine program is directed by the Indiana State Department of Health and not by the local health department or local hospitals.

“All vaccination clinics at the local level are conducted under the direction and guidelines from the State. Much of what determines the number of appointments in a local clinic is the availability of doses from the State,” she said. “If you watch the news at all, you know that doses are NOT guaranteed due to hundreds of reasons out of our local control. Coordinating doses for the 6.7 million people in Indiana alone is a logistical nightmare. Every Indiana county affects the other.”

Indiana’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan can be found at https://www.coronavirus.in .gov/vaccine/index.htm and is updated regularly by the Indiana State Department of Health.

Phase 1A began around Dec. 18, 2020. This provided vaccines for patient-facing healthcare personnel, long-term care facility residents, and public-facing first responders.

Phase 1B includes Hoosiers age 70 and older.

The next eligible group will be people ages 60-69, but the Indiana State Department of Health had not announced their eligibility date as of Friday.

Other eligible groups will be added as more vaccine becomes available. The document outlining the specific eligible groups can be found at https://www.coronavirus.in.gov/files/Eligibility%201.5.21.pdf

A complicated process

Cox explained the health department and local hospitals have to follow specific guidelines when giving the new vaccine to local residents.

“It is not as easy as ‘just’ giving a shot,” she said. “The vaccine itself has extremely difficult parameters for storage and handling.”

One of the main reasons any vaccine can fail to protect someone is a break in the cold-storage chain, she said.

“Vaccine programs have had strict storage and handling guidelines for years and the COVID-19 vaccine is no different. In fact, it is even more complicated,” Cox said.

With the current version of vaccine, doses are not provided in a single dose syringe; a multi-dose vial is used.

Each vial contains a specified number of doses and cannot be put back in refrigeration for later use once they come out of the cooler.

“All clinics are doing their level best to coordinate appointment schedules so that no doses are left over at the end of the day,” Cox said. “When you hear about waiting lists, these are not separate lists of people who want the vaccine. People who are next in the appointment queue will be contacted if there are doses at the end of the day. If that person who is already on the schedule for the next day is available to come in, then that is a win for everyone. If not, we will call the next person in the queue.”

Another reason that the State has mandated that all vaccines be administered by appointment only and a State ran registration system has been put into place is so each dose is documented correctly.

“We do understand that the online registering system has been problematic and that there are waits of two or more hours to reach 2-1-1 but this is not something unique to Henry County,” Cox said. “Be patient and keep trying.”

Doses of vaccine are delivered to local vaccination sites as the Indiana State Department of Health delivers them. On Dec. 18, 2020, the State put Henry and Rush County together to provide vaccine to Phase 1A participants. Many of the local healthcare providers in Phase 1A traveled to the Rush County Walk-In clinic to receive their doses.

Cox said the Rush County site is still available to Henry County residents.

“Henry Community Health has vaccine and has been providing vaccine to Phase 1A individuals as well,” she said.

The Henry County Health Department started receiving vaccines this week in preparation of opening the vaccine clinic Monday, Jan. 18.

All three sites will be able to provide vaccine for those in Phase 1A as well as the beginning of 1B, ages 70 and up.

Sign up online for a vaccine appointment at https://vaccine.coronavirus.in .gov/. You can sign up for any of the clinic locations through this website.

“Each clinic has their own designated appointment times. This is dependent upon staffing as well as the number of doses of vaccine available. The State works with each of us to help manage that system and our schedules,” Cox said.

Breaking the rumor mill

Somehow, a rumor started going around the county on Thursday that the Henry County Health Dept. had the vaccine and was refusing to give it to people who need it.

At least one person even called the newspaper about the rumor, although they offered no proof.

Cox addressed the rumors head-on when she spoke with The Courier-Times about the new vaccine clinic that starts Monday.

“The answer to the rumor that Henry County Health Department is ‘sitting’ on vaccine and not providing it to the public is disgraceful,” she said. “Our mission to serve and protect is as sound as it has ever been. Commentary such as this will no doubt cause great distress to our citizens and quite possibly have a negative affect on someone’s health. I am personally asking that whoever is spreading this become part of the pandemic solution and stop being part of the problem.”