LIMA — Adults with some of the most common underlying conditions that put them at risk for severe coronavirus disease are not getting early access to vaccines in Ohio, as the state has opted for a strict definition of which chronic diseases qualify a person for 1B priority due to the scarcity of vaccines and a desire to preserve supplies for elderly Ohioans and K-12 employees.
Ohio included adults of any age who have severe congenital, development or early-onset medical disorders on its list of people who will be eligible to receive a vaccine within the next four weeks, citing their increased risk for death from COVID-19.
But the state’s approach allows a person hospitalized with severe Type 1 diabetes or congenital heart disease in the last year access to vaccines by mid-February, while a person with Type 2 diabetes, cancer or severe obesity — three common underlying conditions that also increase a person’s risk for hospitalization or death from COVID-19 — will have to wait.
The decision underscores the difficult choices facing governors, who must choose between prioritizing equally worthy at-risk groups at a time when supplies are limited and the risk for contracting COVID-19 remains high.
“They are making these decisions with everyone’s best interest in mind, knowing that not everyone’s going to be pleased given where they fall on this hierarchy of vaccination,” said Brian Fink, professor of epidemiology at the University of Toledo. “But the intent is beneficial.”
Gov. Mike DeWine split from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention early on to prioritize all adults over age 65, who make up the vast majority of all COVID-19 deaths in Ohio.
While the CDC recommended dividing older adults into two groups so that essential workers routinely exposed to coronavirus — like first responders, teachers and grocery store workers — could be vaccinated quickly. DeWine rejected that advice in favor of a strategy he said was designed to protect the most vulnerable.
But DeWine did include some essential workers, K-12 employees, in his plan so schools could reopen by March, expanding 1B eligibility to more than 2.2 million Ohioans at a time when the state is only receiving roughly 100,000 new doses of vaccine each week, a pace that would drag 1B vaccinations out for 22 weeks if supplies do not increase.
DeWine has faced repeated questions about when Ohioans with cancer, immuno-compromised children and other at-risk groups will be added to the list, a decision which he described on Thursday as “gut-wrenching.”
“It’s not yes or no,” he said. “It’s yes, we do you and somebody else is going to get shoved back.”