INDIANAPOLIS — Every Hoosier over the age of 16 will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting on March 31, just nine days after allowing Hoosiers 40 and older to register. The 2.2 newly eligible Hoosiers will be the biggest population bloc approved since the state started distributing the vaccine in December.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said that Indiana would have one million fully vaccinated residents by Wednesday evening, in addition nearly 1.5 million partially vaccinated residents.

The weekly press conference comes one day after a statewide address in which the governor announced that capacity limits and the mask mandate would both be downgraded to advisories starting April 6. Holcomb defended the decision to lift the mask mandate before many would be vaccinated, saying the state had ample resources and the ability to better care for sick Hoosiers.

“This is by no means … a ‘mission accomplished’ moment. This is a ‘proceed with caution’ (moment),” Holcomb said. “Hoosiers know what works and will continue to lead by example.”

Holcomb said he wasn’t swayed by pressure from his own party, as many Republican legislators signed onto a House Resolution seeking to end his public health orders, and wasn’t driven by “anything other than reality.”

“I’m not pressured … by pundits or politics,” Holcomb said.

Kris Box, the state health commissioner, emphasized that many of the most at-risk Hoosiers, the elderly, have been able to get vaccinated for weeks but asked residents to still voluntarily use masks.

“The mandatory wearing of masks has protected those who are most vulnerable while allowing them ample time to get vaccinated,” Box said. “Please keep wearing your mask. We know it works.”

To encourage those who might be hesitant to take one of the vaccines, Box said the state would partner with private employers to host on-site vaccine clinics, employ mobile vaccine sites and utilize outreach efforts to minorities and those in rural areas.

Opening up to so many Hoosiers at one time may mean scheduling out vaccines for weeks in advance, which Box said was why vulnerable populations had been prioritized. But for younger Hoosiers who are immunocompromised or at-risk, they may seem to “fall through the cracks” if their doctor referrals get delayed.

“Most of our providers have been superb and we’ve had … over 150,000 people that have been referred,” Box said. “If (there are) issues with a specialty doctor … or with their primary care (doctor), may they could reach out (to another doctor) to get that referral.”

Box said she would “love” if everyone who wanted a vaccine received their dose by June but acknowledged hesitancy would delay any form of herd immunity.

“My goal is for absolutely every Hoosiers that’s eligible … can get a vaccine,” Box said.

The state has progressed to second doses for approximately 4,000 Hoosiers with developmental or intellectual disabilities, vaccines for 5,500 Hoosiers experiencing homelessness and another 3,400 homebound Hoosiers, according to Jennifer Sullivan, the secretary of the Family & Social Services Administration.

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