By Tim Ashley
SYRACUSE — It remains unclear how at least six staff members – and possibly more – from the Wawasee Community School Corporation received COVID-19 vaccines even though they are not eligible under the Indiana Department of Health guidelines.
The WCSC staff members were given the vaccines primarily after being on a waiting list at a Walmart pharmacy.
But during this past weekend, that practice abruptly stopped and school staff were told they could no longer be placed on a waiting list to be called if extra vaccinations become available. According to Megan Wade-Taxter of the Indiana Department of Health, though, teachers or school staff were never included as prioritized to receive the vaccine.
“Indiana’s eligibility categories are determined based on their ability to prevent death and hospitalization, not profession,” she said. “Currently, health care workers, first responders and Hoosiers age 65 (has since been changed to 60) and older are eligible to receive the vaccine.”
She said the state health department is in constant communication with all vaccine sites and reminds them of the state’s eligibility requirements and the need to follow them. In a letter dated Jan. 30 and sent to vaccination sites, it was noted “It has come to our attention that there are entities incorrectly notifying groups that they meet eligibility criteria or that people are individually misinterpreting the criteria.”
Part of the confusion may be that each state has the authority to allocate the vaccine as they see fit. And state planning is subject to change. Some states have included teachers as prioritized to receive the vaccine.
According to a graphic done by the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, every single state surrounding Indiana (Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky) has prioritized teachers or school staff, but Indiana has not.
A Wawasee teacher, who asked not to be identified, said she was told by a Warsaw Walmart pharmacy staff member a vaccine plan was submitted to the state and it included having school staff members being placed on standby. But not so, said Wade-Taxter.
“Vaccination clinics’ plans for establishing standby lists were not submitted to the Indiana Department of Health for approval,” she said. “As we previously stated, we asked every clinic to keep a standby list of people who meet current eligibility requirements so that every dose can be administered.”
A phone call placed to the Warsaw Walmart pharmacy was answered by a technician who said media inquiries should be made to the corporate office. Contact was made with media relations online and the following statement was released by email:
“Eligibility and waste avoidance protocols have been developed in collaboration with state health departments with the shared goal of never letting a dose go to waste,” said Rebecca Thomason, senior manager of corporate communications for Walmart.
“Each vial contains multiple doses, and those doses are administered in accordance with CDC and FDA guidelines. In the event additional doses from an opened vial are available and there are no scheduled appointments, we turn to individuals who fall within that priority to administer the remaining doses. If no one is available in that priority, where states allow, we move to the next priority.”
Some have voiced concerns that not enough eligible people will be found and some dosages of the vaccine will have to be thrown away due to expiration. Wade-Taxter emphasized, though, the top priority is given to ensure doses are not wasted.
“Only one one-hundredth of the doses we have received have been wasted, primarily due to a vial or syringe breaking,” she said, adding the CDC states pharmacies should follow state eligibility requirements.