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DeWine on Opening Vaccine Eligibility: 'We're in a Race'

The Cintas Center at Xavier University in Cincinnati is expected to offer up 10,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Thursday through Saturday.
Courtesy of WCPO
The Cintas Center at Xavier University in Cincinnati is expected to offer up to 10,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Thursday through Saturday.

Gov. Mike DeWine visited the Cintas Center in Cincinnati Thursday, the first day of operation for the pop-up mass vaccination site. With the site—expected to distribute 10,000 doses over three days—already fully booked, the governor explained why he decided to open up vaccine eligibility to more Ohioans when some older eligible residents across the state say they are still struggling to get an appointment.

"A couple factors," DeWine said. "We are now averaging about 400,000 first doses every single week. We expect on the 29th of March – that week, or very close to that – we expect that number to go up from 400,000 to about 500,000. That's what we've been given, the data from the White House, in regard to that. This is expanding the amount of vaccines."

Starting Friday, March 19, Ohio residents age 40 and up, those with cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, heart disease or obesity become eligible for the vaccine. On March 29, Ohioans age 16 and up become eligible.

DeWine added that he only expects vaccine availability to increase in the coming weeks. The White House, he said, "has given us strong assurance that these numbers are not going to go down. We expect at least half a million every week going forward."

DeWine said about 22% of Ohio's adult population has already been vaccinated.

031821 public health alert map.PNG
More Ohio counties are under decreasing risk for the spread of COVID-19 on this week's public health advisory map. Ashtabula, Tuscarawas, Wayne, Homes and Carroll are among 23 counties now at orange. The statewide average number of cases per 100,000 people has fallen to 143 from 155.

"We are also, frankly, in a race," he continued. "We don't really know exactly what the enemy is doing, but we do know from talking to scientists and epidemiologists that they do believe that the variant is spreading in Ohio. The good news is the vaccine appears to be just as powerful, they think, against the variant as against what we were dealing with before. The downside of that, of course, is that it is believed to be much more contagious, so we're concerned about that."

He also noted how some providers have asked if they can open up eligibility for those 40 and older early, given that they had the spots to fill. "And we gave them permission to do that," he said. "They needed to fill the slots and they thought they could if they could open up to 40 years and they are doing that now."

DeWine said some appointments are held back for community partners to try to reach the most vulnerable communities, but if those don't fill, the appointments are opened up for booking.

"It's always a tough decision to know when you should open up [eligibility]," he said. "We were seeing Dayton and Columbus say, 'We have vacancies.' We seem – and I say seem – we seem to be having a slower uptake every time we move down in age. At least that's what it appears to me to be happening."

He concluded by saying that he expects that when eligibility opens up March 29 to "see a big dash and then it will level off."

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