Indiana’s top medical groups pleaded Tuesday for more people to get COVID-19 vaccine shots as the state is in the midst of a new surge of infections and hospitalizations.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb is set to renew the statewide public health emergency for another month as the current one expires Wednesday and legislative leaders have pushed back until January taking action on a contentious proposal that included steps toward ending that order.
The medical organizations warned that the vast majority of current hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated and that hospitals are stressed by caring for more critically ill patients who face longer stays.
Indiana hospitals had 2,200 COVID-19 patients admitted as of Monday, an 82% increase in such hospitalizations over the past three weeks, according to tracking by the Indiana State Health Department. About one-quarter of those patients were being treated in intensive care units.
The Indiana Hospital Association, Indiana State Medical Association and Indiana State Nurses Association said more vaccinations are needed to relieve pressure on the state’s health care system.
“Should the current trends continue, everyone in need of health care could be impacted,” the groups said in a statement. “We urge all Hoosiers who have not yet received a vaccine or who are eligible to get a booster to do so before winter arrives to ensure a hospital bed is available for all in need.”
Indiana has the nation’s 11th lowest rate for fully vaccinated population at 50.6%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state continues to average about 20 COVID-19 deaths a day, with the Indiana Health Department adding 119 recent deaths on Tuesday that increased Indiana’s pandemic toll to 17,557.
Holcomb outlined administrative steps two weeks ago the Legislature could put into state law after which he would end the public health emergency that he first issued in March 2020. Republican legislative leaders, however, scuttled a planned fast-track approval of the measure following objections from medical and business groups over provisions forcing broad exemptions from workplace vaccination requirements.
House Republicans took the unusual step on Monday of posting early the text of the proposed bill, giving it the House Bill 1001 designation that typically goes to the measure designated as a top priority for passage after the legislative session’s scheduled start on Jan. 4. It is already sponsored by 56 of the 71 Republicans in the 100-member House.
The bill posted online drops language specifying that medical exemptions from any employer’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements included “pregnancy or anticipated pregnancy.” Several doctors testified that wrongly signaled that the vaccines aren’t safe for pregnant women.
A spokeswoman for Republican House Speaker Todd Huston didn’t immediately respond to questions about how quickly the House would try to advance the proposal and why the pregnancy language was dropped.
Huston said last week that lawmakers were “resolved to take quick action this session to help end the state of emergency.”
Several Indiana hospital systems and some major employers, such as Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co., adopted vaccine requirements for their employees even before President Joe Biden announced plans for a federal mandate for large businesses.
Indiana Democrats argue that Republicans were putting lives and the state’s economic recovery at risk by placating vaccine doubters.
“They would rather put their extreme partisanship ahead of creating a better future for Hoosiers,” said Lauren Ganapini, the state Democratic Party’s executive director. “Science and medicine are equipped to fight the pandemic, and we ask all Hoosiers to do their patriotic and civic duty to help put this pandemic behind us by getting vaccinated.”