INDIANAPOLIS – I didn’t see this coming. I figured that most Hoosiers would jump at the chance to get the COVID vaccine; that the anti-vaxers made up only about 5 or 10% of the population, as any school administrator could confirm regarding those who don’t want to comply with RMM vaccine requirements that have been in place for decades. Ditto for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said today, “Honestly, it never occurred to me we would have difficulty getting people to take the vaccine.”

But now at a time when the pandemic was supposed to be disappearing in the rearview mirror, Tuesday’s Indiana State Department of Health report showed 1,085 new cases, the first time it’s been over 1,000 since May 8. On Wednesday that grew to 1,248 cases with 12 deaths. The seven-day positivity rate, which runs a week behind, continues a month-long climb to 6.3%, the highest since Feb. 9, with some 15 counties over 10%.

According to CDC stats as of Tuesday, only 58% of Hoosiers age 18 and up had received one dose of the vaccine which rank us 12th in the nation; only 54.9% had received both doses. In a state of 6.7 million people, less than three million have been vaccinated. In the U.S., the numbers were these: 69% for one dose, 60% for both.

A frustrated U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon, MD, tweeted Wednesday: “New CDC recommendations on masking are not based on science but instead based on politics including kowtowing to teachers unions. The problem is tens of millions of Americans are unvaccinated. Vaccinated people are very rarely spreading the virus. When does it end? Never?”

While Gov. Eric Holcomb had received near universal credit for dealing with this unprecedented modern pandemic, he’s maintained a much lower profile this summer. During the first year of the pandemic, Holcomb got high marks for transparency, which included a weekly Zoom press conference with Health Commissioner Kristina Box and Chief Medical Officer Lindsay Weaver.

He hadn’t weighed in on the latest wave until Tuesday. “You just look at the numbers, you look at the cases, you look at the hospitalization rates, you look at the deaths – it’s overwhelmingly unvaccinated,” Holcomb said Tuesday in Westfield. 

With his current emergency order expiring at the end of the week, he said he’s reviewing the CDC’s new guidance before he decides the path forward for Indiana. “If this isn’t persuasive to get vaccinated, I don’t know what could be,” he said. 

Despite encouraging Hoosiers to get vaccinated, at this time he’s not considering a vaccine mandate for state employees. It’s something at least one other state and city have implemented for their workers. “I’m not leaning toward that but obviously, I’ve got some updates to make by the end of this week. We’re looking at what the CDC just put out. I want to see the EUA, emergency use authorization, turned into permanent. I do understand parents and students who are waiting until it becomes permanent.”

The last time Holcomb addressed the pandemic in May, he told the press, “It’s a slog and it’s going to be a grind. I can’t change reality. If there are some people who are just dead set against it (getting vaccinated), it’s their personal responsibility.” What we did learn this week is that his inaugural gala will take place on Aug. 21. With a good part of the Republican Party apparently unvaccinated, this appears to be a second-generation super spreader event in the making.

The problem, as new Indiana University President Pamela Whitten and Colts Coach Frank Reich can attest, is that the state’s gaping half-unvaccinated population isn’t just someone else’s “personal responsibility.” Whitten and Reich had been vaccinated and have since contracted a mild case of COVID.

What health officials from ISDH to the CDC, to Dr. Anthony Fauci can’t tell us emphatically is whether a breakthrough COVID infection is transmissible.

This collision of being vaccinated and exposed became a crashing new reality for this writer. On Monday, I was a candidate for Marion County jury duty and faced the prospect of being in a crowded room in a county with a 44% vaccination rate. The dilemma was that on the homefront, I have a five-month-old unvaccinated granddaughter, and a 92-year-old vaccinated mother living in a retirement facility. My mother reports that employees of her facility are all vaccinated, but there are disturbing CDC statistics that reveal less than 50% of Hoosier nursing home employees are vaccinated.

What the ....?

As a citizen, laws, rules and regulations keep me from wantonly running red lights, driving 120 miles an hour on I-65, or operating a motor vehicle while drunk. As the saying goes, your right to swing a fist ends just short of my nose. But the governor now insists that the willfully unvaccinated are just practicing their own special kind of “personal responsibility.”

On Wednesday, we learned that an outbreak of the unvaccinated has brought the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy to a standstill.

In the past week, other governors have begun speaking out. A vexed Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey said, “It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down. Folks are supposed to have common sense. But it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the vaccinated folks.”

And Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said, “It’s very sad.” In recent weeks he’s spoken with families “whose loved ones have died or who are in the hospital, in dire circumstances right now, because they refused to get vaccinated. Completely preventable.” He blamed conservative media who have cast a doubt over the vaccine, saying, “They are killing their own supporters.”

This is why this avoidable pandemic spike is creating the call for “mandates.” The Veterans Administration has joined a number of medical centers (including IU Health) mandating employee vaccination. New York City and California are enacting mandates, and Chicago is considering one.

The NFL just informed clubs that if a game cannot be rescheduled during the 18-week season in 2021 due to a COVID outbreak among unvaccinated players, the team with the outbreak will forfeit and be credited with a loss for playoff seeding.

President Biden said on Tuesday that the federal government is considering making vaccines mandatory for its workforce, including the armed services. “That’s under consideration right now,” Biden said.

This sets the stage for a deepening of the political crisis that continues to grip the nation. Except the red and blue presidential Electoral College maps have been replaced by red and blue COVID vaccination rate maps and overlaying infection spikes ... coming once again in July when this pandemic genie was supposed to be rebottled.

The risk for Indiana medical systems is that by now, this pandemic was supposed to be relegated to the past. Worth pondering now is whether the burned out ICU nurses are up for a fourth and fifth wave of pandemic “personal responsibility.”

And with the new COVID spike coming with younger Americans and Hoosiers, are we setting up another disastrous school year? The first three waves largely missed our kids, including those age 12 and younger who cannot get the vaccine. We may not be so lucky with fourth and fifth spikes.

Throughout this pandemic, we’ve witnessed a medical miracle in the development of these vaccines within a year, only to watch them squandered by the politicized ruling class. The United States is awash with unused vaccine, while the rest of the world craves for such. What we’re experiencing now is a dynamic that was soooo avoidable, and it makes me wonder if it’s a harbinger for a second long, dark winter if COVID keeps mutating.