CINCINNATI — Hamilton County health officials remain encouraged by the decreasing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations reported in the Greater Cincinnati region, Hamilton County Public Health head Greg Kesterman said Wednesday morning.
Alongside the arrival of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one dose to protect patients from severe cases of COVID-19, Kesterman said the Tri-State’s prognosis is positive — but mask-wearing and social distancing will remain essential until a majority of Ohioans are vaccinated.
About 15% of all Hamilton County residents had received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine by Wednesday morning. The vaccination rate was much higher for residents over 80, who have been eligible for the jab since mid-January: 63% of them have gotten at least one shot, according to Kesterman.
Ohio’s vaccine eligibility criteria will expand significantly beginning Thursday, when all Ohioans over 60, all pregnant women, people with Type 1 diabetes, child care workers, law enforcement officers and funeral services workers simultaneously become eligible for vaccination. Kesterman said his department plans to continue emphasizing small, local vaccine clinics and reaching out to communities that may otherwise lack consistent health care access.
“We will continue to do the tireless work to make sure that we can get vaccine to everyone in our community that is interested in getting the vaccine,” he said.
New assurances from the federal government allow the department to plan those efforts further in advance, he added. The Biden administration has promised Hamilton County will receive at least 75% of its current allocation of doses next week, meaning Kesterman’s office can plan appointments with more confidence about the number of shots available.
And the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine means fewer individual appointments will have to be scheduled over the next several months, halving at least a portion of vaccine providers’ workload compared to the two-shot Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.
Dr. Robert Frenck of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital joined Kesterman’s conference to explain some other differences between the three vaccines in circulation — chiefly that their outcomes are not identical.
Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines are both delivered in an initial dose followed by a booster dose roughly three weeks later. At the end of the vaccination process, these shots are considered more than 95% effective at preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is about 72% effective against COVID-19 — 86% against severe illness and death, according to data submitted to the Food and Drug Administration. In exchange for convenience, patients who receive the Johnson & Johnson shot are slightly more likely to become sick than their counterparts who take the two-dose alternatives.
But all three vaccines do the most important thing, Frenck said.
“All of them are doing the thing we really want to do, which is to keep people out of the hospital and keep people from dying of this virus,” Frenck said.
Experts recommend patients take the first approved vaccine that becomes available to them.
Scientists remain unsure whether any of the vaccines protect against transmission, Frenck added. A person who is immune to the illness caused by the novel coronavirus might still have the ability to pass it on to someone else.
That’s why mask-wearing and social distancing are so important, he said. “Normal” can’t return until the country reaches widespread herd immunity from COVID-19.