How some Columbus prosecutors got vaccinated before health care workers and the elderly

By: - January 7, 2021 1:00 am

Members of Florida’s National Guard help at a coronavirus testing site. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images).

A 29-year-old Columbus prosecutor received a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday despite officials limiting the scarce doses to nursing home residents, health care workers and certain emergency responders.

Brandon Edwards, a lead prosecutor for Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein, posted a photograph of his CDC-issued COVID-19 vaccination record card on Instagram.

He is one of about 175,000 Ohioans who have been vaccinated as of Tuesday.

“Do your part,” he wrote in a caption with the photo.

Edwards did not respond to inquiries.

In a statement, City Attorney Zach Klein said he “allowed” his staff to be added to a “list of individuals” curated by Columbus Public Health who can receive the vaccine only if there are doses available that would otherwise be destroyed.

A spokeswoman for Klein said certain prosecutors, victim’s advocates, and other staff who interact with the public in an often-crowded court room were placed on this “spoilage list.”

The two COVID-19 vaccines currently allowed for use are temperature sensitive, with one requiring ultracold storage near minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and can expire if they aren’t quickly injected.

Once a vial (containing roughly 10 doses) is opened, it cannot be refrozen and spoils in six hours.

“When the option is throw away a vaccine or call someone on a list to receive the vaccine, the city attorney’s office is part of that list,” the spokeswoman said.

Ohio is currently in the 1A vaccination phase, meaning doses are limited to health care workers, residents and staff at nursing homes and psychiatric hospitals, EMS responders, and others.

Phase 1B, which Gov. Mike DeWine said will hopefully begin (supply-dependent) in two weeks, would include Ohioans aged 65 and older, people with severe medical disorders, and K-12 teachers and staff.

That still leaves essential workers, a broad and nebulous category including police, firefighters, restaurant workers, transportation workers, and scores of others.

Kelli Newman, a spokeswoman for Columbus Public Health, said CPH has vaccinated about 40 people via this “no waste process” — this includes three people from the prosecutor’s office along with public health employees and EMS workers.

She said the department sometimes has vaccines left over at the end of a clinic due to no-shows or extra vaccine in the vials, which usually contain 10 doses but sometimes have enough to vaccinate 11 or 12 people.

“Situations like this are not unique to Columbus, but are being experienced throughout the country in an effort not to waste any of the precious doses,” she said. “The vaccination process is a new and complicated one, and we are all learning as we go. Columbus Public Health is in the process of developing a formal ‘no waste list’ where people can sign up on our website to be contacted to get a vaccine on short notice if there is vaccine left at the end of a clinic.”

Roberts is married to Klein’s chief of staff, Ed Roberts. CPH did not respond to questions about the existence or appearance of nepotism.

Vaccine waste isn’t just an academic concern. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Tuesday that 35 vaccine doses expired last month after an unspecified nursing home overestimated the number it needed. The facility reportedly had 195 doses leftover at first but managed to reallocate most of them to other long-term care facilities, people 65-and-up, and Walgreens pharmacy employees.

There are 11.7 million people in Ohio, many of whom are seeking a vaccine for the new coronavirus that has infected more than 743,000 residents and killed 9,368 of them since March 1. The scarcity has forced tough decisions regarding who gets vaccinated first and who will have to wait it out.

Klein said he’s advocating for frontline court staff like prosecutors, victims’ advocates, and public defenders to be considered for vaccination at the same time as law enforcement.

“I have not yet received the vaccine and at no time did I advocate for myself to be on any list, nor do I plan to do so,” he said.

“These efforts are limited to the public-facing, courthouse staff who show up every single day to ensure public safety and protect victims in our community, and COVID is a threat to that safety. After a dozen COVID cases amongst our prosecutors and victim advocates, we want to take all the appropriate steps reasonably necessary to protect victims and public safety, and to stop the spread of this virus in our community.”



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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.