At 91 years old, Norma Miller is eager to feel a sense of relief following her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Miller received her first dose last week, and as a long-time local business owner, she feels fortunate to have remained healthy throughout the global pandemic.
“I’m sure I’ve been around it, going on 10 months, but I try to be careful,” the owner of the Riviera Motel said.
The decision to take the vaccine was an easy one for Miller.
“I’ve always taken the flu shot, ever since they’ve been around, and I’ve never had anything go wrong,” she said.
Miller is among the more than 7,000 Montgomery County residents above the age of 65 that fall into the high-risk category for COVID-19. To date, the virus has infected more than 3,400 Montgomery County residents and killed 54 since it was first detected in the county in March 2020.
The vaccine, which is now available to Hoosier residents 70 years and older and front-line healthcare workers, offers a new protection to the virus that is responsible for more than 9,200 deaths in Indiana in the last 10 months.
“I think we only have two choices going forward,” Montgomery County health officer Dr. Scott Douglas said. “Either we are going to have to get vaccinated or suffer the consequences of the infection, and for some folks the consequences of the infection can be dire.”
While many who have contracted COVID-19 experience only mild symptoms, the risk of a serious illness is still far greater than the risk of an adverse side effect of the vaccine.
Douglas said that approximately 1 in every 100,000 people will experience a serious reaction to the vaccination, like anaphylaxis, compared to a fatality rate of 260 per 100,000 positive cases of COVID-19 in the state of Indiana in the community, not including positive cases in those residents living in long-term care facilities.
In the coming months both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which have each shown early trial efficacy rates of above 94%, are expected to be widely available, and in many people’s eyes give a sense of normalcy back to society.
“It’s really exciting to have some hope finally,” Wabash College Nurse Chris Amidon said.
While the local college had a successful fall semester with in-person instruction, Amidon said they’ve seen lingering effects of the virus in an otherwise young and healthy group of young men. Long-term heart and lung complications have been detected worldwide in some individuals who have recovered from COVID-19.
“Those things are just so frightening and unpredictable that I think having a vaccine is just almost miraculous to think about how much hope it’s giving us right now,” Amidon said.
While educators are not yet able to register for their first dose of the vaccine, many will be the first ones in line once they receive the go-ahead.
“I will be getting the vaccine when it is my turn,” a local school counselor said.
In August, schools in Montgomery County returned to in-person instruction first in a hybrid fashion, then full-time, and have remained there since. The vaccine will eventually give schools another added measure in combating the spread of the virus.
“I do think the vaccine adds to the light at the end of the COVID tunnel but I think for the time being other mitigating factors like social distancing, quarantine when necessary, and good habits like hand washing and covering your cough also brighten that light,” the counselor continued. “These have been effective in limiting transmission between students and staff in our local schools.”
And will return a sense of much needed normalcy to the classroom.
“I believe that it will allow myself as a teacher to be more engaged with my students,” said Crawfordsville business teacher Drew Neal, who is eager to get his first dose of the vaccine. “I’m not the teacher that stands in front of the class and never interacts one-on-one with my students. Teaching during this pandemic, I can see how less engaged my students are with each other.”
While the Moderna vaccine is authorized for individuals 18 and older and Pfizer for ages 16 and older, the belief is teachers and faculty will soon be in line to receive the vaccine and that will in turn allow schools to slowly return to a more normal setting.
As the vaccine availability trickles down, residents of many ages and professions are ready to get into line.
“Personally, I felt compelled to receive the vaccine,” a young North Montgomery graduate who works in retail pharmaceuticals said. “As a healthcare employee, I felt that it was my duty to protect myself, my co-workers, their families and the couple hundred patients we are in close contact with daily.”
While surveys have shown an increase in confidence for the vaccine from the general public, it still has its doubters.
Local gym owner DJ Elliott isn’t ready to write off COVID-19 as an illness, but doesn’t believe a vaccine to be the answer.
“I 100% believe that it’s a flu strain and for certain people, whether it’s a lifestyle choice or something they can’t control, that is can be a horrendous experience,” Elliott, who owns and operates Elavus CrossFit said. “I’m kind of under the feeling that our bodies are pretty amazing and they should be left to do their own thing. If you take care of your body, you can help stave it off or help recover faster, or maybe not get it at all. And I think there’s something to that.”
Elliott said one opposition he has to the vaccine is the timeline it was introduced after the novel coronavirus burst onto the scene worldwide in the late winter months of 2020. A former pharmaceutical rep believes the timeline fits into a comparable window to how quickly the flu vaccines are developed.
“Every person’s perception of vaccines differ across the board,” Nick Johnson, who for over a decade sold antivirals like Tamiflu to combat viruses like influenza, said. “I know a lot of people talked that it ‘came out so quick.’ The time frame they came out with this vaccine is about the same time-frame if not maybe a little longer that they come out with the flu vaccines. And they’re safe and effective.”
Johnson said an increase in conspiracy theories circulating on social media have contributed to a decline in vaccination acceptance, and Amidon agrees.
“Until a few years ago there was so much confidence in vaccines, and unfortunately there’s been a lot of misinformation about them,” Amidon said. “And I think that’s one negative thing of social media is that really bad information can travel as quickly as good information can and I think that’s unfortunate. So, I hope people aren’t hesitant to take it because they’ve heard things that are not accurate.”
It is still too early in the vaccination process to get an accurate reading on the effectiveness as just 362,452 Hoosiers have received their first of two doses, including 1,316 Montgomery County residents. As of Thursday, 87,506 Hoosiers had been fully vaccinated.
It is also advised that people should get vaccinated, even if they’ve already tested positive for COVID-19.
“Since I fell into the ‘high risk’ category I made my mind up early on that I was going to get the vaccine regardless,” said Codey Emerson, who is diabetic and tested positive for COVID-19 in December. “Getting COVID really didn’t change my viewpoint on whether I’d get the vaccine or not.”
The end of the global health crisis that has not spared even rural areas like Montgomery County is far from over, but the emergence of a vaccine has finally let a little light into an otherwise dark cloud that has resided over much of the world for the better part of a year.
“We can let our guard down a little bit when we are vaccinated, however we are still going to talk about social distancing when you can and wearing a mask when you’re around other people,” Douglas said. “We are going to still ask folks who have been vaccinated to still take precautions, but we are also not going to have as much anxiety about being out and around because of the improved protection the vaccine provides.”