The second stage of Ohio’s planned COVID-19 vaccine rollout will immunize K-12 school workers, Ohioans over the age of 65 and people with severe developmental disabilites, Gov. Mike DeWine announced in his first news conference of the new year.
“The goal, as we’ve said, is to get every child back in school by March 1,” he said. “That’s what our aspirational goal is.”
It’s not phase 2 — it’s phase 1B, during which DeWine hopes to offset the sharply limited supply of vaccine by focusing on specific vulnerable groups rather than making it available for widespread use.
DeWine said the phase 1B could start within two weeks, depending on how much vaccine the state receives from the federal government. The plan covers a little over 2.2 million people, or about 19% of the state population, newly eligible to receive the vaccine.
Phase 1A, still in progress, began in late 2020 and targeted people who live or work in group care settings such as nursing homes. About 61% of nursing homes in the state have gotten their first visits from workers administering the vaccine, DeWine said Tuesday.
Residents of such facilities have been far more eager to get the shot than staff, he added. Around 80% of nursing home residents opt to receive the vaccine when offered; staff members accept it at half that.
Ursel McElroy, who leads the Ohio Department of Aging, said many workers have expressed anxiety about possible side effects, the speed at which the vaccine was developed and the fear of contracting COVID-19 from the injection. (Some mild side effects have been observed, but it is not possible to get COVID-19 from the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.)
In response, McElroy’s department has embarked on a campaign to compassionately answer questions and educate staff with misinformed beliefs about COVID-19 and the vaccine.
“We hope that these discussions will get the workforce the confidence to get the vaccine,” she said.
On the day she and DeWine spoke, the Ohio Department of Health reported 7,580 new cases of COVID-19, 537 hospitalizations and 104 new deaths.
ODH chief medical officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said the state continues “to ride a very high wave of COVID-19” marked by increased hospitalizations and a higher positivity rate — the percentage of all tests performed that return a positive result.
“Our ICUs are caring for over 1,000 patients, and over a quarter of our ICU beds are filled with COVID care,” Vanderhoff said, adding: “We’ve not even begun to see whether there will be an additional impact from our holiday week.”
Hospital strain is often an issue during January and February flu seasons, he added; the COVID-19 pandemic is an added complication that may force overwhelmed medical workers to send patients to other hospitals for inpatient care.
Vanderhoff was the only speaker to mention the highly infectious new COVID-19 strain recently identified in the United Kingdom. It will almost certainly make its way to Ohio, if it hasn’t already, he said; however, despite its increased infection rate, it is not more severe than its predecessor and can be prevented with the same vaccines.
“Its appearance reinforces the importance of our efforts to prevent the spread of COVID: our safety measures and vaccines,” he said. “The safety measures we emphasized today, wearing masks, staying six feet apart, avoiding crowds and frequent hand-washing, they’ll all work against this new variant.”