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Ohio National Guard troops move out to hospital mission, but many members are still unvaccinated

 Adjutant General Major General John Harris Jr. watches as Gov. Mike DeWine talks to Ohio National Guard members as they are processed for their deployment to Ohio hospitals on January 6, 2022.
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
Adjutant General Major General John Harris Jr. watches as Gov. Mike DeWine talks to Ohio National Guard members as they are processed for their deployment to Ohio hospitals on Jan. 6.

Some Ohio National Guard troops got a greeting from their commander-in-chief as they set out on their mission to help Ohio’s hospitals overwhelmed by soaring COVID patient numbers and staffing shortages.

But a significant number of Guard personnel can't go on this hospital mission because they're unvaccinated.

DeWine personally offered well wishes to Guard members at the Defense Supply Center in Columbus, sending them off with a handshake and a homemade buckeye from his wife Fran. They're headed to around 35 hospitals around the state.

But DeWine said he’s frustrated that almost half of Ohio Army National Guard personnel can’t be deployed on this mission because they haven’t gotten COVID shots.

“In some of our testing places, 40% to 45% of the people are testing positive. So this is a high risk operation. You need to be protected. The best way for you to be protected is to get the vaccination," DeWine said. "So, look, we're not happy with where we are. We’re going to continue to push that with our troops."

Adjutant General Major General John Harris Jr. said some 44% of Ohio Army National Guard members don’t have their COVID vaccinations and can’t be sent to hospitals till they do.

“I would never put a soldier or airman in harm's way without the best protection we could put on them—body armor, helmets—and this medical readiness is the exact same thing," Harris said of mandating COVID vaccines. "We're putting folks into harm's way.”

So he’s moved up the deadline from the June 30 date set by the Pentagon to March 31.

“I certainly don't want to vilify the people who aren't taking the vaccine," Harris said. "I am disappointed that there's so much conflicting information that makes a very difficult decision.”

Harris says the move of that deadline has boosted the vaccination rate from 53% to 56% in just the last week. But that’s still below the state’s vaccination rate of around 59%. And it's also below the National Guard’s national average of just over 61%.
Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.

Karen is a lifelong Ohioan who has served as news director at WCBE-FM, assignment editor/overnight anchor at WBNS-TV, and afternoon drive anchor/assignment editor in WTAM-AM in Cleveland. In addition to her daily reporting for Ohio’s public radio stations, she’s reported for NPR, the BBC, ABC Radio News and other news outlets. She hosts and produces the Statehouse News Bureau’s weekly TV show “The State of Ohio”, which airs on PBS stations statewide. She’s also a frequent guest on WOSU TV’s “Columbus on the Record”, a regular panelist on “The Sound of Ideas” on ideastream in Cleveland, appeared on the inaugural edition of “Face the State” on WBNS-TV and occasionally reports for “PBS Newshour”. She’s often called to moderate debates, including the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s Issue 3/legal marijuana debate and its pre-primary mayoral debate, and the City Club of Cleveland’s US Senate debate in 2012.