The relatively positive COVID-19 news continued locally as vaccine availability increased and positivity rates have decreased.

During Wednesday’s Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) weekly advisory level update, Wabash County once again rated in blue, the lowest category, for the second week in a row.

However, during a televised press conference Wednesday, state health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said the increase in variants coupled with a decrease in demand for vaccinations had caused a notable statewide uptick in cases and hospitalizations recently.

“Hoosiers, COVID is still here and it’s not going away any time soon,” said Box. “Please stay vigilant. Please don’t take your guard down.”

Part of that vigilance has to do with vaccine availability, which had been in question in recent days after U.S. agencies on Tuesday, April 13 recommended a “pause” in using the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of rare but potentially dangerous blood clots. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they were investigating unusual clots that occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination. As a result, the ISDH proactively notified all vaccination clinics that day using the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to pause its use.

On Wednesday, state chief medical officer Dr. Lindsay Weaver said they were “very excited” to get the news that the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the CDC had lifted their pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“This pause allowed federal experts to more closely review this extremely rare condition,” said Weaver.

Weaver said this complication has a risk of seven cases per one million vaccinated women who are between the ages of 18 and 49 years old. For women over 50 and men of all ages, this adverse event is even rarer at less than one per million.

“This review shows that the safety measures in place work and it allowed time to educate both patients and providers about the symptoms for what they should look for and ensure that anyone who presented with this very rare side effect could be treated properly,” said Weaver. “Every individual can have a unique response to a vaccine.”

Weaver said it was “heartbreaking” to hear that three women died of this rare clotting disorder, “but it is important to recognize that this brief pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine signals that federal officials take vaccine safety very seriously.”

“The CDC and ACIP have stated their firm confidence in resuming the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and we are confident in resuming it here in Indiana,” said Weaver. “While we know that some people might prefer one vaccine over the other, we continue to believe the best vaccine is the one you can get into your arm today.”

Webb’s Family Pharmacy in North Manchester had been offering weekly Johnson & Johnson vaccine appointments every Thursday starting March 18. After the pause was announced, Webb’s Family Pharmacy confirmed by phone with the Plain Dealer that they canceled all previously scheduled appointments set for that week. Last week, Webb’s Family Pharmacy later stated that they had been informed that their North Manchester location only would be receiving Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the coming days as a replacement for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

On Sunday, Webb’s Family Pharmacy in North Manchester stated that they would resume their weekly Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine clinic from 12:30 to 6 p.m. Thursdays.

On Friday, the ISDH reported seven new local positive COVID-19 cases, bringing Wabash County’s total to 3,515, with 15,001 tests. The local seven-day positivity rating for all tests was 2.1 percent. The local seven-day positivity rating for unique individuals was 10 percent.

Also on Friday, the ISDH announced that 1,494 additional Hoosiers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 through testing at state and private laboratories. That brings to 720,425 the number of Indiana residents now known to have had the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s dashboard.

To date, 12,921 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of eight from the previous day. Another 411 probable deaths have been reported to date based on clinical diagnoses in patients for whom no positive test is on record.

A total of 3,381,943 unique individuals have been tested in Indiana, up from 3,376,666 on Thursday. A total of 9,787,443 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported to the state Department of Health since Feb. 26, 2020.

To find testing sites around the state, visit www.coronavirus.in.gov and click on the COVID-19 testing information link.

Hoosiers age 16 and older are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. To schedule a vaccine, visit https://ourshot.in.gov or call 211 if you do not have access to a computer or require assistance.

The mass vaccination site at the former Roosevelt High School in Gary is offering both the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines. The Gary clinic, which runs through June 2, is offering vaccinations from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. CDT at 2401 Harrison St., Gary. Free transportation to and from the site is available through the Gary Public Transportation Corporation (GPTC) and through a partnership between IU Health and Lyft. Language interpretation and support for those with disabilities, hearing or vision impairments are also available onsite.

A FEMA mobile unit is offering walk-ins for first doses; individuals seeking second doses have been scheduled by appointment from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at Pentecostal Temple Church of God and Christ, 2622 Wabash St., Michigan City.

Additional mobile clinics are planned from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 4 through Saturday, May 8 at East Chicago School Administration, 1401 E. 144th St., East Chicago; and La Porte Rural King, 1340 St. Rd. 2, West La Porte. The first and second doses will be available at these clinics.

Additional clinics are being planned from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 4 through Thursday, May 6 at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, 1210 Wheeling Ave., Muncie; and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 8 at Wolf Lake Pavilion, 2324 Calumet Ave., Hammond.

As of Friday, a total of 4,229,104 doses have been administered in Indiana. This includes 2,344,638 first doses and 1,884,466 individuals who are fully vaccinated. The fully vaccinated number represents individuals who have received a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and those who received the single Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Hoosiers interested in receiving a vaccine can obtain them without an appointment at participating clinics. To find vaccination sites, visit https://ourshot.in.gov.

Rob Burgess, Wabash Plain Dealer editor, may be reached by email at rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com.