As in other states, Ohio might be running out of people who want shots

Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce for States Newsroom.

Some county health departments in Ohio are again telling state officials this week not to send them any more coronavirus vaccines. That’s because they haven’t been able to use up the supplies they already have.

It might be part of a national phenomenon. The news organization Axios reported this week on a paper by the Kaiser Family Foundation saying that based on its polling, just over 60% of Americans say they’ll get a vaccine.

“We estimate that across the U.S. as a whole we will likely reach a tipping point on vaccine enthusiasm in the next two to four weeks,” the paper said. “Once this happens, efforts to encourage vaccination will become much harder, presenting a challenge to reaching the levels of herd immunity that are expected to be needed.”

The paper conceded that the percentage of people willing to get a shot has crept up over time, so “61% may be a floor, not a ceiling.”

Even so, it portends a struggle to get to the 70% threshold that epidemiologists say is necessary to achieve “herd immunity,” the point at which the virus starts to find it difficult to find new hosts so it can keep spreading and evolving.

That’s an issue in Ohio.

Everyone 16 and older has been eligible to get a shot since the beginning of the month. But as of Wednesday just 38% of the state’s population had received a first dose of the vaccine and just 28% had completed it.

Further complicating the problem is that a fast-spreading variant that has ravaged Michigan has been spreading into Ohio, affecting the state’s northern counties first.

The presence of that variant and other factors have put the unvaccinated in more peril now than at any other time in the pandemic, Robert M. Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, wrote Monday in a column in the Washington Post.

Because more people — especially the elderly — have been vaccinated, case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths are far down from their winter peaks. But the numbers that health officials are counting now are affecting a smaller slice of the population: those who haven’t been vaccinated, and particularly those who haven’t survived an infection, Wachter wrote.

“The problem is that the aggregate numbers — even if they show down-trending test positivity rates, hospitalizations and deaths — may be masking an important duality,” Wachter wrote. “The situation may be getting enormously better in the growing vaccinated population, while at the same time growing somewhat worse in the unvaccinated group.”

Bruce Vanderhoff, medical director for the Ohio Department of Health, was asked Wednesday about younger Ohioans who might not think they’re particularly at risk if they don’t get vaccinated. 

Doctors around the country report more covid hospitalizations and complications among young people, partly as a result of the increasing dominance of the B.1.1.7 variant. Yet just 27% of Ohioans 20 to 29 have received at least a first dose of the vaccine.

Vanderhoff said the risk extends beyond the individual.

“People who don’t get the vaccine are not only putting themselves at risk, they’re putting others at risk as well,” he said. “We’re doing a disservice to the people we care about.”

Gov. Mike DeWine said health officials are doing everything they can think of to make it easier to get a shot, including expanding walk-up vaccination centers, taking shots into neighborhoods and workplaces and offering vaccines to family physicians.

He’s also trying to convince people that they have a responsibility to family and community.

“You can’t be sure everybody you come in contact with has been vaccinated,” DeWine said. “We’re not in this separately. This is not a decision that people make and only they live with the consequences.”

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