Ohio dramatically expands vaccine eligibility while other numbers go up

By: - March 16, 2021 12:05 pm

Gov. Mike DeWine outlined his objections to Senate Bill 22 during a COVID-19 press conference on Thursday, March 11. Screenshot courtesy The Ohio Channel.

Ohio got two more pieces of hopeful news about the coronavirus Tuesday.

Gov. Mike DeWine announced that because of rapidly expanding supplies of the vaccine, all Ohioans 16 and over will be eligible to get a shot by the end of March. At the same time, the percentages of residents already eligible for the vaccine are showing marked improvement after weeks of slow growth.

Increased production of the first two vaccines to be used in the United States and the approval of a third have tripled the number of weekly doses flowing into the state from early February. Growing supplies prompted DeWine to make his Tuesday morning announcement.

“It’s a moral imperative that we move as quickly as we can to vaccinate all Ohioans who wish to be vaccinated,” DeWine said in a tweet. “We expect a significant increase in vaccines coming to Ohio soon, so we will expand vaccine eligibility.”

As part of it, Ohioans over 40 and those with cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and obesity will be eligible for the vaccine starting Friday. Those over 16 will be eligible starting March 29.

At the same time, the percentages of already-eligible Ohioans getting the vaccine are improving. 

That’s important because high levels of vaccination would lead to herd immunity. That would deny the virus a foothold to continue to spread and mutate into more dangerous, vaccine-resistant variants.

Over the past month, DeWine acknowledged that the portion of people accepting the vaccine reached 50% and then slowed to a crawl as it approached 60%. He hopefully speculated that part of the problem might have to do with February’s terrible weather.

Turns out he might have been right. Ohioans 65 and over have been eligible for the vaccine for more than a month. The percentages of those receiving at least a first dose last Tuesday compared to today:

  • 80 and over — 65% vs 68%
  • 75-79 — 62% vs 66%
  • 70-74 — 59% vs 65%
  • 65-69 — 48% vs 56%

Overall, 20% of Ohioans have received at least a first dose of a vaccine. Public health experts say between 70% and 80% of a population need to be immune to protect the herd. 

Still unknown is how much natural immunity is conferred from a coronavirus infection or how long that immunity lasts. Also unknown is the extent to which people who have been vaccinated can still carry and spread the virus.

Also, Tuesday’s good news should be tempered by the fact that a faster-spreading, more lethal variant first identified in the United Kingdom is reaching a critical point in the United States. In Europe, once the B.1.1.7 variant made up half of all circulating strains, overall cases started rising, the Washington Post reported Tuesday. The United States could reach that level this week, the paper reported.

There’s been some quibbling over who deserves credit for the rapidly expanding supply of vaccines, which hopefully will end the covid nightmare the state has been living with for almost exactly a year.

Development and approval of the first two vaccines took place under the administration of former President Donald Trump. It was done far more quickly than any previous vaccine and more quickly than public officials dared hope.

But there were also problems. Despite a slow rollout, Trump’s surgeon general, Jerome Adams, in December said that the administration would not invoke the Defense Production Act to speed production of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which already had been approved.

When he ascended to the presidency on Jan. 20, Joe Biden used the production act to rapidly increase production and took other steps to ensure an increasing, predictable supply to states. He also was publicly vaccinated (Trump and his wife were vaccinated in secret) and undertook a public campaign to get people to wear masks and to show them that the vaccine is safe.

Then, when the single-dose  Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved, Biden again deployed the Defense Production Act, brokering a deal between that company and a competitor, Merck, to dramatically increase production.


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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.