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DeWine Says Ohio's COVID Vaccine Supplies Still Low, Even As Some Refuse Shots

Gov. Mike DeWine holds a coronavirus press conference on September 15, 2020.
Gov. Mike DeWine holds a coronavirus press conference on September 15, 2020.

Gov. Mike DeWine said the next phase of Ohio's coronavirus vaccine distribution is expected to begin in two weeks, but the state is still dealing with a lack of supplies and concerns about eligible recipients refusing to be vaccinated.

As of Tuesday, Ohio has vaccinated 175,408 people – just 1.5% of the state's population. At a press conference, DeWine said the state has three main goals in its distribution plan: save lives, protect health care workers and get students back to school. 

"We don't have enough as it comes in every week, obviously, to vaccinate everybody in the state," DeWine said. "So there has to be a priority set."

There are nearly 1 million people in what the state considers its "1A" priority group, who were the first in line for the vaccine when it began arriving in Ohio last month. That group includes residents and employees in nursing homes, people in congregate care settings, medical personnel and EMS workers.

Group "1B" will expand those eligible to people ages 65 and up, people with severe cognitive development or medical disorders, and K-12 teachers where schools are open for in-person education. 

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said that Ohio has "supply and demand limitations," and the state expects less than 150,000 first doses of the vaccine to arrive in the near future. That second group encompasses an estimated 2.2 million people.

"We have chosen to prioritize the people who are most likely to die without it," Husted said.

DeWine says it's not clear yet how the next group of vaccine recipients will be phased in, but a start date should be announced in the next few days.

"This is not going to happen overnight, as much as I would like," DeWine said. It's going to take longer than I would like it to take."

Challenges In Nursing Homes

Nursing homes were a top priority for vaccine distribution because of that population's vulnerability – over half of Ohio's coronavirus deaths have occured in long-term care facilities. While three-quarters of residents have accepted the first dose of the vaccine, DeWine mentioned that many employees still refuse to do so. 

"We're only running about 40% of the staff that's taking the shot the first time around," DeWine.

He mentioned that nursing home residents and workers have three main chances to get the vaccine, and it's not clear when they'll get another opportunity after that. DeWine also hinted at one instance where doses were wasted after a higher-than-expected number of employees refused the shot.

DeWine dismissed the suggestion that the state mandate nursing home workers take the vaccine, but says that individual businesses are free to do so. 

"There is broad consensus in this state to not require people to get shots," DeWine said.

Ohio Department of Aging director Ursel McElroy said she's "reasonably concerned" about resistance among long-term care employees. She mentioned that people who refuse the vaccine common cite worries about side effects, concerns about its safety and effectiveness, or dismiss the threat of COVID-19 entirely.

McElroy said her department is hosting a series of live discussions with medical experts to try and instill more confidence in the vaccine. She explained that people still need to wear masks because, while the vaccine will prevent people from being severely affected by COVID-19, it won't necessarily stop them from spreading the disease.

Tuesday's press conference featured two people at Wright Rehabilitation Center in Fairborn receiving their vaccine shot. Pharmacist Meran Ritter, who administered a shot on camera to resident Darrell Holt and dietary director Sean Veasley, says the vaccine rollout has so far "gone perfectly" with "absolutely no hiccups."

Both vaccinations took less than a minute, as Ritter swabbed the area on their upper arm, delivered a quick injection and then put a bandage on top. All the vaccine recipients said that they experienced no pain.

Concerns In Hospitals

The Ohio Department of Health on Tuesday reported a 7,580 new COVID-19 cases and 104 more deaths in the last day – bringing the state over 735,000 cases and nearly 9,250 deaths since the pandemic began.

The state continues to see a surge of COVID-related hospitalizations and ICU admissions, with 538 people hospitalized and 44 admitted to ICUs in just the last day.

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, chief medical officer at the Ohio Department of Health, says that January and February are typically busy months for hospitals, and even though the flu has not proved to be as powerful this year, COVID-19 has kept hospitals and ICU rooms packed.

Across Ohio, coronavirus hospitalizations are currently three times higher than in November, and seven times October's numbers. And Vanderhoff hinted that things could soon get worse.

"We've not even begun to see if there will be an additional impact from our holiday week," Vanderhoff says.
Copyright 2021 WOSU 89.7 NPR News.