The vaccination conversation changes

Syringes are prepped with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before being administered. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the States Newsroom.)

The vaccine conversation is changing, and it’s changing fast. 

Just a month ago, people across the state were tapping “refresh” on their browsers, hoping to book their spot at a local pharmacy for an assurance against infection delivered by Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson. Just two weeks ago, I biked down to Grove City from my home in the Brewery District to get the closest shot I could find.

Now, supply is outstripping demand. Pharmacies in many rural areas are practically begging people to get vaccinated. The overriding public policy problem of vaccination shifted quickly from one of rationing to one of public education.

Over a year ago now, I wrote about what Ohio can do to fight COVID-19, and the first strategy I listed was vaccination, understanding it would be awhile before we could implement such a strategy. That’s as true now as it was then: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and two pin pricks is well worth reducing someone’s chance of contracting, suffering from, and passing on this deadly virus.

As of this week, a third of Ohioans are fully vaccinated. Public health experts across the country, though, are worried “herd immunity” will not be achieved. The story of the changing market for vaccines is not just one of supply, it’s also one of demand. While getting an appointment has become easier and easier over the past few weeks, the number of daily vaccinations has gone down over that time period.

What sort of dynamics will drive the vaccination trend in the Buckeye State going forward? She state has some things going for it. As of last weekend, Ohio led all of its neighboring states in number of people fully vaccinated per capita. Gov. Mike DeWine has been a strong and consistent voice for the importance of vaccination and has pushed for increasing access to the vaccine when given the chance.

On the other hand, Ohio has some demographic pressures that may make it hard for it to achieve herd immunity. For one, there is growing evidence that being a Trump voter is associated with passing on a vaccine. This does not bode well for a state where 53% of voters opted for Trump in 2020.

A large demographic of largely non-Trump voters also have been slow to be vaccinated: Black Ohioans. Black Ohioans make up 12% of the state’s population, COVID cases, and COVID deaths, but only 8% of the state’s vaccinated.

These twin problems create a dilemma for the state. It’s hard to imagine the state reaching 70% vaccinated without an uptick in vaccinations among Black and Republican Ohioans.

So what does a public education campaign look like to improve vaccination rates in Ohio? I won’t hazard to pretend I know the answer to this. There seems to be some agreement that public education played a part in the decades-long slide we’ve seen in smoking rates. But this is a problem with a lot of urgency where rapid vaccination could save a lot of lives in the short-term. Let’s hope we have some answers for helping people get vaccinated who haven’t yet decided to.

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Rob Moore
Rob Moore is the principal for Scioto Analysis, a public policy analysis firm based in Columbus. Moore has worked as an analyst in the public and nonprofit sectors and has analyzed diverse issue areas such as economic development, environment, education, and public health. He holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of California Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Denison University.