LIMA — The anticipated approval of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine raises the possibility that Ohio will soon expand vaccine eligibility, which for weeks has been restricted to older adults, healthcare workers, K-12 educators and a small group of adults with rare medical disorders who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 complications.
But that expansion will continue to be rolled out incrementally and remain focused on age limits until all adults 50 years and older have had the chance to get their shot, Gov. Mike DeWine confirmed this week, citing COVID-19 mortality rates among older adults as justification for Ohio’s age-based approach.
While it’s unclear exactly when the age limit will be lowered, the next group of Ohioans to receive their vaccines will be those 60 years and older, followed by those 55 years and older and then adults 50 years and older.
Some groups of essential workers with a high risk of exposure to coronavirus on the job may be included in these stages as well, DeWine said.
The speed with which new groups become eligible for vaccines will depend upon how quickly supplies increase and how much demand exists among younger Ohioans.
Already, Allen County has vaccinated nearly 60% of seniors 80 years and older and more than half of those between 75-79 years old, while vaccination rates among those 65 and older continue to rise, according to Ohio Department of Health data.
Steven Martin, professor and dean of Ohio Northern University’s College of Pharmacy, said that the logistics of delivering vaccines to communities, scheduling appointments and verifying eligibility for a vaccination effort of this magnitude are already complicated, so tailoring eligibility beyond simple criteria like age or occupation is not always practical even when there is good reason to prioritize other vulnerable populations.
“You have to keep it as simple as possible in order to be as effective as possible in getting people into the system,” Martin said.
Still, there have been calls to include a broader share of essential workers, many of whom are routinely exposed to the virus on the job.
And there are concerns that restricting eligibility by age unintentionally builds inequity into the process, as life expectancy among Black Americans is often shorter than that of their white peers.
“It’s a legitimate concern, but one which we don’t really have a good way to solve given that this is a very large, unprecedented effort to try and vaccinate the country,” Martin said.
“Hopefully by summer, everyone who would like to be vaccinated will have an access point to get vaccinated. I think the bigger push to me would be let’s try to get as much vaccine into the system as possible so that we get to the point where anyone who wants it is able to get it without barrier.”