Ohio officials not tracking rate of vaccine refusals

By: - December 31, 2020 6:26 pm

Gov. Mike DeWine is pictured during a statewide address. Photo courtesy Ohio Channel.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine got a lot of attention Wednesday when he said that 60% of nursing home workers who were offered a coronavirus vaccine refused to take it

But state health officials on Thursday said there’s no organized effort to track refusals among people they consider so critical that they’ve been given first crack at the scarce vaccines.

In a press conference, DeWine implored people who are eligible for the vaccine to accept it, warning that it could be a long time before they get another chance. That argument might seem pretty compelling, given that a fast-spreading variant of the virus has popped up in two states, ICU beds are filling and the two approved vaccines have trickled out at a rate far lower than the Trump administration promised.

But DeWine lamented that many nursing home workers are passing on the vaccines anyway.

“Our bigger concern is the amount of staff who are not taking it,” he said. “I don’t have data in front of me, but anecdotally, it looks like somewhere around 40% of staff at nursing homes are taking the vaccines and 60% are not taking it.”

The statement went viral. A tweet about it generated more than 5 million impressions as of Thursday evening.

Despite the obvious interest in how many people are refusing to be vaccinated, that’s not something the state is measuring.

DeWine made his statement about nursing home workers “from some reports we have been hearing from our pharmacy partners,” Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman Melanie Amato said in an email Thursday. “It ranges in facilities, but this is a rough average. Remember the nursing home are largely being vaccinated by Walgreens/CVS as part of the federal program. We rely on them for the information. Same with hospitals. We track vaccines that have been given. We don’t track who would have refused.”

Neither CVS nor Walgreens could immediately be reached for comment. While they are handling vaccinations in congregate settings such as nursing homes, they aren’t in charge of vaccinating hospital staff, paramedics and the like. Ohio health officials apparently aren’t tracking the rate at which those groups are refusing the vaccine, either.

Dan Tierney, DeWine’s press secretary, said that despite the low level of nursing home workers agreeing to be vaccinated, the governor isn’t considering a mandate — at least for now.

“On mandating the vaccine for these groups, we are still in the rollout of this phase, and our message to Ohioans is that if you are in group 1A, we urge you to take the vaccine now, because it may be months before there is another opportunity available to you,” he said. “We believe that increasing awareness will help increase the utilization rate. Ultimately, it is up to each health care provider to determine which workers they employ meets the criteria in group 1A to receive the vaccine in this phase.”

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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.