First published Jan. 7, 2021 on TheStatehouseFile.com 

While working in emergency services for the Fishers Fire Department, Capt. Joe Harding is urging fellow first responders to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine when they become available to the group Friday. 

“I personally came to realize that the best way through this is to listen to science,” Harding said. “The majority of scientists are saying that this vaccine is necessary to get through this pandemic, to help protect lives, not just me but those around me.” 

Harding was one of the first to receive a vaccine from a round distributed in December, joining those who are already fully vaccinated — most being frontline healthcare workers — on Monday. 

For emergency workers like Harding , the COVID-19 pandemic poses a risk every time they respond to a 9-1-1 call. That’s because they don’t know if the person asking for help has tested positive and is asymptomatic, possibly causing a chain of positive cases for every emergency they attend. 

“The decision wasn’t hard for me,” Harding said. “When they said that yes. this is truly safe, I felt confident in my decision to go ahead and get vaccinated.” 

He says the shot hurts less than a flu shot and hasn’t shown any secondary symptoms. 

Indiana State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said Indiana will begin to offer vaccines to elders and first responders in the next round of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution Friday. Indiana has received about 350,000 vaccine doses, according to ISDH.

Due to the limited vaccine quantities the state received, the Indiana Department of Health developed a multi-step plan to make the most of the shipment and help the most people possible. The state’s plan does not necessarily have to follow the nation’s plan

In October 2020, a now outdated Indiana COVID-19 Vaccination Plan proposed a series of phases as to who would receive the vaccine and in what order. Phase 1 prioritized healthcare workers and those at most risk of dying because of the virus to get the vaccine first.

Gov. Eric Holcomb’s COVID-19 update Wednesday noted the health department will now be focusing on age groups when distributing the vaccine. 

After that, a second phase will focus on people who are at high risk of transmitting the disease, including prison inmates and police or firefighters attending an emergency, among others. 

Members of the Fishers Fire Department received the first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 18. Capt. John Mehling, public information officer,  said it was offered directly from the state and not the fire department itself. 

Mehling himself has been a victim of COVID-19. When sick with the virus, he lost his sense of taste and smell, something Mehling said is especially dangerous for a firefighter because they could miss the smell of smoke in the field. 

“We are staying optimistic, and we are doing everything we can from our level to encourage people to take the steps,” Mehling said. “The vaccine is one component of getting to the other side of this, but there’s still the simple things, the everyday things that we can do and that’s the washing hands, wearing a mask, staying six feet apart.” 

So far, Indiana is limiting the vaccine rollout to groups like first responders. But some suggest others—teachers, childcare providers and retail workers—should also be first in line.

Appointments can be scheduled at the ISDH website. Visit the vaccine dashboard for more information. Those who want to register for the vaccine must do so with an invitation and registration link from their employer. 

Carolina Puga Mendoza is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

TheStatehouseFile.com is a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.