“People just don't want it … there's really no nice way to say it.”

Those words from Franklin County Health Department Supervisor Angie Ruther were among many spoken at the April 20 health board meeting on the topic of local response to COVID-19 vaccination shots.

Recent numbers showed the county's vaccination rate – after completion of doses - among all qualified individuals sitting at 17%, one of the lowest percentages in the state.

Comments came from around the room about the situation of high supply, low demand.

Emergency Management Director Amy Lindsey attributed some of it to distrust of government, with rumors circulating about the shots causing fertility issues.

“The information needs to be clarified by someone who's not a government employee or insider-type person,” she said.

Community efforts are already well underway to bridge the trust gap.

“We're trying in our own ways to curry a response to increase demand,” offered Jennifer Profitt, unanimously chosen as the board's new president after Patsy Weileman resigned the post to begin the meeting.

She stated she was proud of several local leaders, volunteers and community organizations, as well as local media outlets, for putting the process under a positive light.

Profitt had glowing remarks for the mass clinics being conducted at American Legion Bernard Hurst Post #77 in concert with Reid Health, an effort that is even receiving national attention.

“The legionnaires have been fantastic to work with,” she added. “They've been generous, with a cheerful look and tireless spirit.”

The new president also commended Dr. Jonathan White of George's Pharmacy, who's been volunteering his time to help give shots. “Pharmacists are considered one of the most trusted voices in (any) community,” said Profitt.

Still, as Weileman remarked, “There are a lot of people I talk to who do not want to receive the shot.”

The numbers back this up. Though Reid has given 670 first-shot doses locally – including to minors ages 16-17 with accompanying parent - Ruther noted at any given clinic, there may be around 10% of the total supply utilized.

Meanwhile, at the department, nurses reported over 3,000 shots delivered between January and the end of March in a total group effort. But more peeling of the onion tells a different story.

Jesse Olvera, local public health coordinator, had a conference call (D9 Healthcare Coalition) with other counties within Indiana's District 9.
All counties are reporting an increase in missed appointments and decrease in appointment slots filled. He provided the example of a 'high-volume' weekend clinic using less than 10% of vaccine supply.

“This seems to be the norm, so counties are looking to consolidate,” he said via phone hookup.

“Demand has decreased so significantly that there's a hard time giving away first-round shots, and some are going unused, which is unconscionable,” added Lindsey. “It's quite a shame to ask for 500 shots a week and only have 120 sign-ups.”

Hints and some facts were given throughout the meeting that a new statewide plan is just around the corner, though many of the specifics could not be released.

“The whole state's pivoting strategy,” Profitt revealed. “It's no longer a supply issue, but a demand issue. We're seeking a higher-volume clinic in Franklin County for citizens… coming imminently.”

In the interim, only second doses of the Moderna vaccine will be available from FCHD starting this week and continuing through the end of May.

Batesville Kroger was cited as a place to get the initial shot.

“We want to make sure, as Amy said, no shot goes unused,” added Profitt. “We'll continue reaching out to those who might be vaccine-averse. But we've struggled for about a month finding people to take the doses.

“I don't want to give the impression that our foot is off the gas… it is not,” she went on. “It just takes some time for minds to change and hearts to open.”
In COVID testing news, Lindsey said she would get updated stats that evening at the EMS board meeting, but already knew those numbers had also decreased dramatically in the last two months.

“My guess is less than a couple dozen tested in a full week,” she noted.
The contract runs through June, so local public testing will continue at least until then. She said Franklin was one of the only counties in the state to outsource testing to a different county entity.

It wasn't all gloom on the corona front.

In a discussion on potential variants – U.K., Brazil, South Africa, New York, California – it was announced FC had no breakthrough cases on a district report dated April 20. Those are defined as people testing positive for the virus two weeks after the second Moderna or Pfizer shots or the first Johnson & Johnson shot.

Clark County, part of Louisville metro, had the most at 13 and Floyd County reported nine. Surrounding reports included Decatur (5), Ripley (4) and Dearborn (3).

Residents were reminded they can call the health department with any questions at 765-647-4322.

Next meeting is scheduled for July 20, 5:30 p.m.
In other news:

Environmental health specialist Curt Cox brought an issue forward which needed the board's input. A county resident west of Brookville wished to have an approved septic system installed on a recently purchased adjoining property. However, the neighboring site had burned in the past. Area Planning requires that two sites on a property be evaluated, the second for future use should the first site fail.

Julia Hayes, environmental health specialist for the state, visited the site with Cox and assessed a sand-lined system may work pending evaluation from a soil scientist. Tom Adams, a contractor with Adams Soil and Septic of Anderson, probed the area for suitable soils on April 9; Adams later sent a letter to Cox with his findings. “The soil is not suitable due to fill material less than 20 inches in depth,” it read in part. “Some areas … were sampled but it was extremely shallow. I did not see any other areas that were natural enough to meet IN Rule 410 for a septic system.”

In addition, Cox was unable to find a permit for the approximately 50-year-old system at the homeowner's current address. He was not comfortable approving the current system, as a suitable secondary site was not located.
Board member Joe Meier advised that Cox should request a letter from the state to have on file, mirroring the same conclusion that Adams had found. “I hate it, if someone's trying to improve their living (conditions),” said Meier.

Eugena Monroe was introduced as the new FCHD grant administrator and backup secretary/registrar. She has experience in grant writing with the Fayette Co. and Union Co. soil and water conservation districts.

Olvera reported that work continues on Budget Period 2 (by June 30) deliverables; three are due as requirements for Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) assistance from the federal government. COVID testing and vaccinations can be used to fulfill the requirements. A District 9 meeting is set for Friday, when a new Emergency Operations Plan will be drafted for the next five years. Olvera added this will count as a deliverable and many pieces of the prior plan will supplement the new plan.

Lindsey said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is now offering reimbursement for COVID-related funeral expenses, though the process involves much paperwork. If a loved one died in 2020 with COVID-19 as the official cause of death, some expenses can be recouped. She said the department may see more requests for death certificates.

The EMA director also noted she put in for a cybersecurity grant recently. She will know within 90 days if the grant is awarded for future training and policy development that would likely not start until the fall.

Mary Burk, secretary/registrar, reported 7 birth and 124 death certificates issued in the year's first quarter. She reported the initial rollout of DRIVE (Database Registration of Indiana Vital Events) was hairy but that it's now largely “working really well and is fairly easy.”