As vaccine demand grows in Ohio, how are nursing homes keeping up?

Posted at 10:23 PM, Mar 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-18 23:21:21-04

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday there were only 70 new cases of COVID-19 in the state's nursing home over the last seven days, continuing the dramatic decline of coronavirus spread among some of the state's most vulnerable residents since vaccines became available late last year.

But some in the industry worry that, as vaccine eligibility expands and demand for doses skyrockets across the state, congregate-care facilities might face challenges finishing the work they started.

"If we can't keep the vaccination level up, we're losing some of that edge," said Pete Van Runkle, executive director of the Ohio Health Care Association.

Van Runkle's organization represents nursing homes and assisted living facilities across Ohio. He said the state's Vaccine Maintenance Program, which rolled out late last month for both staff and residents, is getting shots to some but not quite enough yet.

"Anecdotally from our members, it seems like probably 10 percent maybe that have actually gotten vaccine under this program," which is meant to pick up where the initial rounds of federal support for nursing homes will soon leave off, he said. "Maybe it's a little bit higher than that, but it's certainly not the majority."

DeWine said the VMP has delivered 16,000 additional doses of the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson vaccines to nursing homes, with another 30,000 scheduled to go out by the end of the month.

But Van Runkle said more shots will be needed quickly to keep infection rates low.

"They want to make sure everybody is in," he said, referring to expanding vaccine eligibility, which will include all Ohioans 40 years or older Friday and all Ohioans 16 and older by the end of the month. "We support that 100 percent, and everybody should be in, but if they've found a more efficient way of doing it, then that should be fine."

Ultimately, he said he's placing his confidence in the state's program.

"It's incredibly important because these are the folks who have the significant, negative consequences from getting COVID," he said.

DeWine also said Thursday that 93% of Ohio's nursing homes and 77% of its assisted living facilities have signed up for the Vaccine Maintenance Program.