INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb was jabbed with a COVID-19 vaccine shot when the state’s first mass vaccination clinic opened Friday morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The governor was joined by Black elected officials who encouraged members of minority groups to put aside concerns and get vaccinated.
Holcomb wore a mask and sat in the front passenger seat of an SUV while getting his shot of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the drive-through clinic.
Holcomb said his message to Indiana residents is: “Do it, just do it.”
“This is going to help us beat COVID-19,” Holcomb, a Republican, said. “The more, the faster.”
The Indiana State Health Department said nearly 17,000 people snatched up four days of appointments at the speedway clinic from Friday through Monday. State officials are planning mass shot clinics for South Bend, Gary and Sellersburg during the next three weeks.
Holcomb, 52, had said he didn’t expect to receive the vaccine until his age group’s time arrived because he doesn’t have health problems. State health officials opened up Indiana’s vaccination eligibility on Wednesday to all residents 50 and older.
The state has recorded almost 12,700 confirmed or presumed coronavirus-related deaths over the past year, although Indiana’s COVID-19 death and hospitalization rates have fallen about 80% since their December peaks.
Nearly 660,000 people, or nearly 10% of Indiana’s population, were fully vaccinated through Thursday, according to the State Health Department. Blacks and Hispanics, however, account for only about 7% of those who have received shots in the state, while making up 17% of Indiana’s population.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Andre Carson and state Rep. Robin Shackleford, who are both Black and from Indianapolis, were among the officials joining the governor at the speedway clinic. Shackleford, who is chairwoman of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, said the vaccines are especially important for minority communities that have had higher rates of COVID-19 illnesses and deaths.
“I know there are concerns about how quickly the vaccine came about, our history when it comes to getting vaccinations and feeling like guinea pigs, but I want to assure that we feel that this vaccine is safe,” Shackleford said. “We wouldn’t be out here unless we thought it was safe.”
Most vaccine clinics across the state are distributing the two-dose versions from Pfizer and Moderna. Indiana has received about 54,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, much of which are being dedicated to the mass vaccination sites, said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, the state health department’s chief medical officer.
The other mass vaccination clinics are planned for March 12-13 at Ivy Tech Community College in Sellersburg, just north of Louisville, Kentucky; March 20-21 at an undetermined site in Gary; and March 26-27 at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.
Health officials anticipate giving shots to more than 4,000 people a day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway clinic by keeping the lines going until 10 p.m.
“We’re excited to see thousands of people coming through the gates today,” speedway President Doug Boles said. “Not for the Indy 500, but to take on a bigger and more challenging race than even the Indianapolis 500.”