One expert says he can free up millions of vaccines. Ohio’s not biting

Photo of vaccination by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images.

Ohio’s supply of the coronavirus vaccine remains under severe strain, with even priority residents facing a months-long wait for a shot.

At his coronavirus press conference Tuesday, Gov. Mike DeWine put the problem succinctly: “There are a lot of people who should be vaccinated in the state, but they can’t get it because we don’t have enough vaccine.”

The problem is so bad that with only 100,000 doses flowing into the state each week, it could be June before the state’s second-highest priority group is vaccinated. That’s people over 65, people with severe disabilities and adults who work in schools. The Biden administration Tuesday announced plans to increase vaccine shipments to states, though it’s unclear currently exactly how many more doses Ohio will receive.

The state hasn’t even decided who will be next to receive priority, so funeral directors, police officers, service workers and others are left to wait and hope.

A public health expert last week argued that there’s a way to free up millions of doses of the vaccine instantly. But so far, Ohio officials aren’t buying it.

Writing in the Washington Post, Marty Makary argued that the more we learn about coronavirus, the more it appears that being infected confers durable immunity.

“Even mild infections appear to elicit a persistent and functional immune response,” wrote Makary, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. “One recent European study found that people who had mild or asymptomatic covid-19 mounted a ‘robust T-cell immunity’ afterward. A separate French study affirmed this, noting that some people who lived with a confirmed covid-infected person developed T-cell immunity even when they did not test positive for covid.”

Given that — and given that roughly a third of Americans might already have been infected — Makary argued, the smart approach is obvious.

“To maximally preserve human life, we should prioritize our limited vaccine supply to those who have never had covid-19,” he wrote. “Given the scarcity of the vaccine, it doesn’t make sense to administer it to those who already had the disease while vulnerable seniors are sitting ducks in this pandemic war.”

Bruce Vanderhoff, the Ohio Department of Health’s chief medical officer, doesn’t see it that way.

“We’ve seen arguments like that arise periodically since the advent of the virus,” he said Tuesday. “But leading authorities — especially in the field of vaccinology — have really not advocated for that kind of an approach. The reality is that we have very predictable and very robust immunity from people who receive the vaccine.”

Vanderhoff said that post-infection immunity from coronavirus is robust for about three months, but he fears that it could wane after that. 

He added that the current guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that so long as people are fully recovered from covid, they should get a vaccine if they can.

Makary had an answer to the CDC’s current guidance.

“This is outdated and fails to take natural immunity seriously,” he wrote. “As a result of this flawed guidance, Americans with natural immunity — including many who are low-risk — are inappropriately getting the vaccine instead of high-risk seniors.”

In other covid news, DeWine said that if Ohio hospitals have fewer that 3,500 covid patients through Thursday, he’ll shorten a 10 p.m. – 5 a.m. statewide curfew to 11 p.m. – 5 a.m. If hospital utilization subsequently drops below 3,000 for seven consecutive days, Ohio’s curfew would be amended to 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. for at least two weeks. If hospitalizations drops below 2,500 for seven consecutive days, the Ohio Department of Health would recommend lifting the curfew, he said.

He also said state officials have received permission from the federal government to repurpose 77,000 vaccines. Those are doses that had been set aside for nursing home residents and staff, but were refused.

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