TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - It's the day we've all been waiting for. One COVID-19 vaccine is now in the hands of hospitals across the nation. UPS and FedEx began distributing the Pfizer vaccine to every state over the weekend. But when will we see it coming to Greater Lafayette?
IU Health has been designated to administer the vaccine for health care workers who live in Tippecanoe, Benton, Fountain and Warren Counties. They will begin the vaccination process on Friday. While some Franciscan Alliance hospitals in other parts of the state were designated to administer the vaccine, the Franciscan Health East in Lafayette will only support and work with IU Health in that effort.
While about 2.9 million vaccines have been shipped across the country, local health leaders said this is only one step towards ending this pandemic.
"This is hopefully the first chapter of getting control of this infection," said Dr. Thomas Meyer, an infectious diseases physician who has worked at IU Health for more than 20 years. "This is an incredibly effective vaccine. Being able to prevent 95% of infections is just staggering, it's so much better than what I would have hoped for."
Dr. Meyer described this whole year as "fascinating, frustrating, grinding and emotionally taxing." He interacts with patients as well as focuses primarily on developing policies and education surrounding this virus. He said people who are coming to the hospitals are scared and not being able to have visitors makes it hard for the patients and the nurses working in the ICU's.
The Pfizer vaccine must be taken in two doses 21 days apart. Dr Meyer said most of the COVID vaccines being developed right now come in two doses. It is currently only approved for those 16 and older, but Dr. Meyer said research has shown it to be very effective in older populations, and in diverse amount of ethnicities.
He said there is one solution to defeating this pandemic.
"The only way that we are going to get as a society where we can safely not wear masks is by as many people as possible getting the vaccine as soon as it's available for them," he said.
But for right now, the Indiana State Department of Health is only allowing a specific group of people to get vaccinated.
"People who spend their days and hours in a hospital, in emergency rooms and ICU's taking care of people who are COVID related will be vaccinated first," said Terry Wilson, President and CEO of Franciscan Health of Western Indiana.
He said their hospitals located in Lafayette and Crawfordsville have been operating at or very close to capacity for weeks now. He said things are much worse at this point in the year compared to the spring. But he said strong collaboration with other health care providers, like IU Health, helping to keep the situation manageable.
Secondary health care workers will be next on the priority list, and Dr. Meyer said getting it to nursing homes should be another priority group.
While this vaccine is an important step forward, Wilson said there are still many steps to go.
"There are 330 million people who live in this country," he said. "The model's we've read about and the people we've listened to suggest that it will be the first and second quarter of next year before it really starts to have an impact on public health."
Dr. Meyer echoed this belief, saying it could be well into next summer before things are finally safe to return to a more pre-COVID place in society.
If the vaccine continues to be two doses, the United States needs 660 million vials of the vaccine to immunize every single American. However, some may be nervous to commit to a vaccine that is so new, and there are some who simply don't believe in vaccines.
"I would suggest to those people to talk with their primary care physician about it because they know the amount of research and data there is behind this vaccine," said Wilson. "Arm yourself with information."
Hospitals across the country are dealing with important front line workers who are falling ill to the disease. Getting them this vaccine will help ensure their own safety and keep them good condition to continue helping in the hospitals.
"A health care worker can get two doses and then come to work and not have that level of fear that they may get infected and spread it to others," said Dr. Meyer.
Until the time when every American has access to the vaccine, leaders from both local hospitals are encouraging people to continue COVID safety measures like wearing masks and social distancing.
"We need the general population to embrace this and realize that that this is a war and it's a long war," he said. "This isn't going away anytime soon, and we need everyone to recognize that and do their part before we can feel at all safe to gather again."
"If they need a reason to do that, it's for everybody working inside the four walls of these hospitals because they are truly doing heroic work," said Wilson.
Health care workers wanting the vaccine have to sign up and bring an employee ID badge with them. IU Health has the vaccination location planned for the Banyan, which is the hospital's main gathering space when you first walk in Entrance 6.
Dr. Meyer said health care workers living in White County must go to Cass County for the vaccine, and those in Clinton County can go to Witham Hospital in Boone County.