Curious Cbus: When Can Everyone In Ohio Get The COVID-19 Vaccine?

Ohio is now into its fourth month of distributing COVID-19 vaccines, an effort that’s helped the state relax some restrictions and finally look forward to the end of this pandemic.

As part of WOSU’s A Year Of COVID series, readers sent in their lingering questions about the coronavirus vaccine and Ohio’s rollout. Here’s what we found.

When can Ohio expand vaccine eligibility to everyone? When will vaccine supply surpass demand? (Asked by Joe Russell)

The good news: With a third coronavirus vaccine approved, and more doses than ever arriving each week, more Ohio residents are now eligible to sign up for a shot.

The bad news: It’s going to be several months longer before anyone who wants a vaccine can get one.

As a quick refresher, there are three FDA-approved coronavirus vaccines on the market right now: Pfizer and Moderna both require two shots apiece, while Johnson & Johnson requires just one.

The U.S. has made some headway in ramping up manufacturing more doses, but supplies are still pretty limited. Ohio received 450,000 doses of the vaccine in total last week, some of which are set aside for second-round shots.

Ohio considers itself in “Phase 1C” and “Phase 2” of its vaccine rollout. Here are some of the groups currently eligible for the vaccine:

  • Residents 60 years of age or older
  • Health care workers and first responders like law enforcement, EMS workers, prison staff, funeral service workers and firefighters
  • Residents and staff of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, state psychiatric hospitals, group homes for developmental disabilities, and state-run veterans homes
  • Teachers and staff at K-12 schools and child care centers
  • Pregnant women
  • Patients with certain medical conditions: ALS, bone marrow transplant recipients, Type 1 diabetes, sickle cell anemia, Down syndrome, epilepsy, severe asthma, and more

Gov. Mike DeWine said that Ohio will likely stay at this phase for several weeks while it makes its way through the millions of eligible residents who haven’t gotten vaccinated yet. Next, eligibility will drop to anyone over the age of 50, though a date hasn’t been announced for that move.

The point where vaccines arrive in large enough quantities to open up for everyone is far off, but moving closer. Last week, Johnson & Johnson announced it would partner with rival pharmaceutical company Merck to ramp up production and distribution of its newly-approved vaccine. President Joe Biden then said the U.S. will likely produce enough vaccines for every adult in the country by the end of May – a two-month jump from the previous goal of July.

Even with those developments, the Ohio Department of Health isn’t ready to say the when final phase of vaccine rollout can begin. 

“This is encouraging news, and we look forward to increased production from Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and now, Merck, to help get vaccines to Ohioans even faster. However, that remains unknown at this point,” says Ohio’s chief medical director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff.

What can I do now that I’m fully vaccinated? (Asked by Bina Mahood)

One listener wrote in asking about what she could do now that she’s received the COVID-19 vaccine. Visit her grandchildren? Go to a potluck? Throw a party?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers someone “fully vaccinated” once they are two weeks out from their second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or two weeks out from receiving the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine.

Dr. Mysheika Roberts of Columbus Public Health says she understands the desire to see family friends again, but it’s not safe yet to drop all precautions. Just 9% of Ohio’s population is fully vaccinated at this point.

“I know that people want to get back to some sense of normalcy sooner rather than later. And the vaccine is definitely our tool and our key to getting there,” Roberts says. “But not everyone’s been vaccinated yet.”

While all three vaccines on the market are nearly 100% effective in preventing death or serious hospitalization from COVID-19, and there’s still a chance vaccinated people can get mild or moderate cases. They also don’t entirely prevent people from unknowingly spreading the disease, which is why the CDC recommends everyone – even those who are fully vaccinated – to wear face masks in public, keep six feet of physical distance from others, avoid poorly ventilated spaces, and wash your hands frequently.

“We anticipate that new guidance will be forthcoming soon from the CDC regarding what vaccinated individuals can do together,” says Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff. “However, it remains clear that masking in public will, for the foreseeable future, remain important whether one is vaccinated or not until we see both improvements the rates of infection and the number of people vaccinated.”

It will also be some time before any children get vaccinated. While kids can certainly spread and experience symptoms from COVID-19, they’re low on the priority list, and the FDA has not yet approved any of the current vaccines for patients younger than 16.

While a grandmother may herself be protected visiting grandchildren, those kids might still be at risk.

“We can’t just let go of everything we’ve been doing for the last 9-10 months with wearing masks and social distancing and throw it out the window now just because some of us have been vaccinated,” Roberts says.

You may be safe after getting vaccinated, but if you want to be around other people, make sure you’re using face masks and keeping distance to protect them too.

Why did Ohio push to get teachers back to the classroom without all school staff being fully vaccinated? (Asked by Valerie Mattingly)

Soon after Ohio began vaccinating first responders, nursing home staff and residents, and the elderly, Gov. Mike DeWine put another group at the top of the priority list: Teachers. The governor set a deadline of March 1 to bring Ohio students back into the classroom, at least part-time, in exchange for allowing districts to acquire vaccines for their staff.

Although a handful of districts remain remote – due to transportation issues or safety concerns – the vast majority already shifted to some level of in-person learning. Not just that, but many districts, Columbus included, went back in February, before all teachers had secured their second or even first shot.

Dr. Mysheika Roberts says that school staff not being fully vaccinated isn’t a problem.

“I think it was safe to bring the students and the teachers back into the classroom before they got vaccinated,” Roberts says.

Research shows that remote learning during the pandemic has negatively affected students from both an educational and mental health standpoint, as well as teachers and parents. (We’ve recently aired a whole series on this.) The Biden administration has also emphasized the need to return to classrooms.

“It’s been very hard on many of our kids, our students, to be remoting in for school,” Roberts says. “They need that structure, they need that schedule, they need that support system, and they can’t get that at home. School is a very safe place for our students, and the data has shown that across the nation.”

Meanwhile, the CDC says K-12 schools that “strictly implemented mitigation strategies have been able to safely open for in-person instruction and remain open.” Ohio districts, Roberts says, have been particularly successful in mitigation efforts like requiring students and staff to wear face masks, keeping people six feet apart, spreading out while eating meals or on buses, increasing air circulation, and isolating potentially sick kids before an outbreak happens.

As a result, many of Ohio’s schools report very few or no COVID-19 cases since reopening.

“The vaccine was just another layer of protection on top of all the other safety precautions that are in place,” Roberts says.

What lingering questions do you have about COVID-19, the vaccines, or Ohio’s response? Ask below and WOSU may answer in a future story.

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