LIMA — Healthcare workers, residents and staff of long-term care facilities and emergency medical services responders are among the first groups who will receive the coronavirus vaccine when distributions start in mid-December, Gov. Mike DeWine announced on Friday.
In a special press conference, DeWine said he anticipates the first shipment of vaccines from Pfizer will arrive by Dec. 15.
Roughly 10,000 of those doses in the first batch will be sent to Ohio hospitals, while another 88,000 will be shipped to Walgreens and CVS pharmacies that are assisting with vaccination programs in long-term care facilities.
Another shipment of vaccines, this time from Moderna and Pfizer, are expected the following week.
About 200,000 of the doses in the second batch will be reserved for Ohio hospitals and health departments, which will start vaccinating EMS responders, home health aides and other healthcare workers who are at highest risk for exposure to COVID-19, while another 123,000 doses will be sent to CVS and Walgreens to continue vaccinating long-term care residents and staff, DeWine said.
By the end of December, DeWine said Ohio should receive one more batch of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
But the exact shipment dates and number of doses available per batch is subject to change. And people will need two doses of the vaccine, which will be administered several weeks apart, to generate immunity.
Residents and staff in other congregate settings like state psychiatric hospitals and group homes for persons with intellectual disabilities or mental illness will also be included in the first round of vaccine distribution, or tier 1a, which is focused on the most vulnerable populations and settings where people are most exposed to the virus.
Key among those are residents and staff of long-term care facilities, where the coronavirus pandemic has wrought incalculable damage.
At least 3,494 long-term care residents in Ohio have already died of COVID-19 complications since the Ohio Department of Health started tracking deaths in long-term care facilities in mid-April, accounting for more than half of all reported COVID-19 deaths in the state.
The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living earlier this week said even a one-month delay in administering the vaccine in these facilities could cost more than 10,000 lives among long-term care residents.
“The speed of which states can vaccinate our residents has significant life or death consequences,” the agencies said in a joint statement.
The next phases of vaccine distribution are still being discussed, and it is unclear when the general public will have access to the vaccines, which have yet to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
But even before the public has access, DeWine said increased vaccination among the most at-risk people should start to alleviate the burden on intensive care units and hospitals.
Public opinion regarding the safety of a coronavirus vaccine has fluctuated too, suggesting the next challenge will be persuading a large enough share of the public to participate in the vaccination program to reach herd immunity.
In May, the Pew Research Center found that 72% of Americans would definitely or probably get a vaccine if it were available at the time. The share of Americans willing to take a vaccine fell to 51% in September but has since increased again to roughly 60%. But Pew found that among those who said they would not take the vaccine, 53% were certain of their decision while 46% said they would consider getting the vaccine once they saw others taking it and more information was available.
“What’s important for people to realize is that when you get a vaccine, we want your immune system to become stimulated so you develop immunity to the vaccine,” Dr. Joe Gastaldo, an infectious disease specialist in Columbus, said on Friday. “It’s not going to be uncommon for people to feel off-kilter for 24 hours. They may have a headache. They may have fatigue. That’s not toxicity. That’s your body’s way of responding to your injection and developing immunity in protection to this virus.”