As COVID-19 cases surge in Grant County, Marion General Hospital (MGH) is getting ready to distribute the first wave of vaccines to health care workers in the very near future.

Kate Lyons, the hospital’s public information officer, said the State of Indiana has selected MGH as a 1-A hospital site to distribute the initial batch of COVID-19 vaccines to health care workers in Grant and Wabash counties. Lyons said the vaccines have not yet been distributed to MGH, but the hospital is anticipating the first round of vaccines should be delivered sometime before the end of the month.

According to an October Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) interim draft of a vaccination plan, Phase 1-A is focused on “support[ing] health care infrastructure and treatment of disease.” The document states hospitals will be used to administer Phase 1-A vaccines, while subsequent phases will include partnerships with local health departments and commercial pharmacies to distribute the vaccine.

While the first round of vaccines could be reaching Grant County by the end of this year, national and local officials including EMA Director Bob Jackson have advised enough supplies to vaccinate the entire general public could possibly not be available until next summer. All COVID-19 procedures including social distancing, mask wearing, staying home when sick, hand washing and isolating and quarantining when necessary should still be followed for the foreseeable future, health officials say.

The Indiana vaccination plan states all paid and unpaid persons working in health care centers “who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious material” would be eligible for vaccination in Phase 1-A, including employees of hospitals, long-term care facilities, outpatient facilities, home health care setting, pharmacies, dialysis centers, emergency medical services, front line public health interventions and COVID-19 diagnostic and immunization teams.

“For Phase 1, Indiana will reinforce and support the healthcare workforce and those who are at the most risk of morbidity and mortality,” the vaccination plan states. “In the scenario that Indiana does not receive sufficient vaccine to vaccinate all included in the population of focus, the IDOH has developed a per-county percentage-based metric to ensure equitable and equal distribution across Indiana.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still needs to approve emergency use authorization (EUA) for each vaccine developed by various companies, including Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna, and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said at a press briefing Nov. 24 the first EUA approval could come at a meeting of the FDA’s independent vaccine advisory board on Dec. 10.

“If all goes well, we could be distributing vaccine soon after December 10,” Azar said. “...We believe we can distribute vaccine to all 64 jurisdictions within 24 hours of authorization. Then, we hope administration can begin as soon as the product arrives.”

According to the state’s draft vaccination plan, the next round of vaccines in phase 1-B would go toward protecting the vulnerable, designated as “individuals who are at particular risk of morbidity and mortality associated with COVID-19 disease based on the latest evidence-based criteria.”

Phase 2 will be focused on mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and include vaccination of those at elevated risk of transmitting the disease through working or living at correctional facilities, group homes, shelters and essential workplaces where “social distancing is not possible and transmission risk is high,” the document states. Phase 3 of the plan is vaccination for the general public.

While awaiting the first wave of vaccines for health care workers, Lyons said MGH currently still has the capacity to handle all local individuals needing hospitalizations for COVID-19 and any other ailments.

“MGH’s COVID-19 admissions remain consistent with capacity and we still have available beds,” Lyons said. “Hospitalization rates among positively-testing individuals remain around 10%.”

The county’s designation as red in the state’s metrics has caused some internal operational changes, Lyons said, but the hospital has not made any recent changes that impact patients and their families.

“We are proceeding with limited visitation and recognize the importance of family support in the care and healing process for our patients,” she said.

Lyons said as the pandemic has progressed, MGH has developed and gained access to new and better treatments for COVID patients, including medications that have been approved for treatment. She said the hospital now has limited accessibility to an outpatient monoclonal antibody infusion therapy for eligible patients.

“Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic and enhance the body’s immune response and assist in the fight against the COVID-19 virus,” she said.

Additionally, MGH can provide convalescent plasma treatment to patients.

“Convalescent plasma is blood plasma collected from an individual who was infected with COVID-19 and has recovered,” Lyons said. “By donating plasma, these recovered individuals can help save the lives of others with weakened immune systems who may not be able to fight the virus on their own. Convalescent plasma is available via transfusion to hospitalized COVID-19 patients.”

The hospital is holding a convalescent plasma drive on Wednesday, Dec. 9 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the MGH 330 Building. For more information and to see if you are eligible to donate, visit https://www.sbmf.org/covid-19-donor -form.

Lyons said throughout the pandemic, MGH employees have been appreciative of the community’s support.

“The community’s support and prayers have galvanized the spirits of our health care workers who are working long hours to provide top-quality care for our patients,” she said. “Words of encouragement and gestures of appreciation go a long way with our staff who are experiencing fatigue. Our staff continues to persevere to meet the needs of our community.”

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