Vaccine available to many more Ohioans amid signs of reluctance to get it

By: - March 9, 2021 1:00 am

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

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday announced that he was again expanding eligibility for the coronavirus vaccine as more and more doses flow into the state. 

Starting Thursday, Ohioans over 50, those with type 2 diabetes and those with end-stage renal problems will be able to get one of the three vaccines so far approved by federal authorities. That means more than 1 million additional Ohioans will be eligible. 

“As fast as this vaccine is coming into Ohio, we’re ready to get it out,” DeWine said.

The makers of the first-two vaccines to be approved — Pfizer and Moderna — have dramatically increased production in recent weeks. Then the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved two weeks ago and the company quickly announced a partnership with drugmaker Merck to scale up production of that vaccine as well.

But increased supply doesn’t appear to be the only factor allowing DeWine to quickly expand eligibility for the vaccine. Millions of Ohioans appear to be declining the shots after they become eligible.

Since vaccines first became available in December, DeWine said one of his guiding principles in deciding who would get priority would be to save the most lives. Ohioans over 80 were the most likely to die from a case of covid, and on Jan. 19, they became eligible for vaccinations. 

Despite seven weeks of eligibility, only 65% of Ohioans over 80 have been vaccinated, according to the state’s vaccine tracker. And more of that age group has been vaccinated than any other.

Ohioans 75-79 have been eligible for the past six weeks, but only 62% have received a shot. Those 70-74 became eligible on Feb. 1, but only 59% of them have been vaccinated.

Perhaps most alarming, Ohioans 65-69 have been eligible for a month, yet not quite half — 48% — have gotten shots.

Epidemiologists have estimated that more than 70% of the population will have to be vaccinated — or maybe have natural immunity from being infected with the virus — to achieve herd immunity. That’s when enough erstwhile hosts of the virus have defenses against it, making it difficult for the virus to maintain a foothold. 

DeWine on Monday acknowledged that large numbers of eligible Ohioans haven’t been vaccinated.

“What we’ve seen so far is that as we get lower in the age groups, it takes longer for (the percentage vaccinated) to go up. It is what it is,” he said. “I’m not sure I can say I’m happy or not happy about it. It is what it is. We certainly want to get as high numbers as we can.” 

Even after there are plenty of doses in Ohio, the governor said, more work will need to be done.

“We’re in a sprint to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we can, but we’re also in a marathon in the sense that this won’t be over and we’re going to continue to work on this — working on messaging… so that every person has the opportunity to understand what the vaccine does or answer any questions they might have,” he said.

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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.

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