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Pharmacist Marjorie Morgan draws a dose of vaccine for Ascension St. Vincent frontline workers getting the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 8, 2021. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune

The Howard County Health Department will begin COVID-19 vaccinations today, health officials said at a health board meeting Monday.

The health department is ready to begin administering the vaccine after receiving 500 doses this week. The health department will receive 500 doses for the next couple weeks and is expecting that amount to increase a month from now, though it’s currently unclear how much it will increase, health officials said. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require two separate doses, with the second dose given a few weeks after the first. The health department is administering the Moderna vaccine.

The state opened vaccination appointments last week to those 80-years-old and older, first responders and healthcare workers. As of Monday, tens of thousands of people across the state have scheduled vaccination appointments, according to the Indiana Department of Health. Appointments can be made at www.ourshot.in.gov or by calling 211.

As of Tuesday morning, 204,326 state residents have received their first dose and 31,432 are now fully vaccinated, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard. That equates to just over 3% of state residents having received the first dose of the vaccine.

Locally, Ascension St. Vincent has administered 1,940 vaccines as of Monday – just over 2% of the county’s population – Krystin Wiggs, integrated communications manager for Ascension St. Vincent, said. The hospital didn’t provide how many doses it’s receiving from the state, but Wiggs did say the hospital hasn’t had to throw away any unused doses.

Since mid-December, the hospital has been the only place in the county administering vaccines, mostly to the 1,200 local hospital employees. That will change today once the health department opens its clinic. According to the state health department, 166 people in Howard County have received both doses of the vaccine as of Tuesday.

Local demand for vaccination sign-ups has been high so far.

“Essentially all” of the available appointments for the health department’s initial 500 doses are filled, Kristina Sommers, public health emergency coordinator for the health department, told the Tribune Tuesday. The state’s appointment website shows the earliest available date to be vaccinated by the health department is Jan. 23. For St. Vincent Kokomo it’s Feb. 9.

Vaccination efforts are ramping up in the state just as the new, more contagious COVID strain was reported to be in Indiana.

The state health department said Monday the variant was identified in the state through testing by the state agency’s laboratory and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Monday’s announcement included no additional information on its discovery in Indiana.

State Health Commissioner Kris Box said in a statement that the variant “does not cause more severe infections, but it is much more easily spread.”

Box added that because the new variant “can be transmitted more easily, it’s more important than ever that Hoosiers continue to wear their masks, practice social distancing, maintain good hygiene and get vaccinated when they are eligible.”

The variant first detected in the U.K. has been found previously in several U.S. states, including New York, Florida and California, and several cases have been reported in those states.

Megan Wade-Taxter, a spokeswoman for Indiana’s health department, said in response to a request from The Associated Press seeking information on what Indiana county or counties the variant had been found in, and how many cases of the variant had been confirmed in the state, that “due to privacy laws, we are unable to provide any specifics about cases.”

What the new COVID strains mean for the effectiveness of the vaccines remains to be seen. It is expected that both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, and the various others currently in development, will still be effective against the more contagious strain. Early studies have shown as much but more studies are needed to know for sure.

Even if one is fully inoculated, the CDC is still recommending that person to wear a mask, practice social distancing and personal hygiene and quarantine if they come into contact with a person who has tested positive due to the fact it’s not yet known for sure if a fully vaccinated person can transmit the virus to someone else.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Tyler Juranovich can be reached at 765-454-8577, by email at tyler.juranovich@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @tylerjuranovich

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