LIMA — Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday announced that all adults older than 16-years-old will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination by March 29.
But first, Ohio will lower the eligibility age to anyone age 40 and older this Friday. And younger Ohioans who have been diagnosed with cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, chronic kidney disease or obesity will also be eligible for vaccination this Friday, given their higher risk of hospitalization and serious complications from COVID-19.
DeWine’s decision comes as the state anticipates a significant increase in supplies available before the end of the month and many vaccination clinics are seeing appointments go unfilled, prompting health commissioners across the state to urge the governor to open eligibility further to ensure vaccines are not wasted.
“There is an imperative that shots not sit in any place,” DeWine said, “that we get them taken up as quickly as possible.”
More than 2.4 million Ohioans, or nearly 21% of the state’s population, have already received at least one dose of vaccine since the effort started in December. In Allen County, that figure stands at 19,700 or 19% of the county’s population, according to Ohio Department of Health data.
The new eligibility guidelines will allow 818,000 Ohioans between 40-49 years old and another 776,000 Ohioans under 40 with certain medical conditions access to the vaccines by Friday.
Urgency to reach herd immunity
Last week, President Joe Biden gave states a May 1 deadline to ensure every adult in the U.S. is able to be vaccinated. DeWine’s announcement Tuesday means Ohio will stay well ahead of this deadline, potentially allowing the state to ease some virus restrictions by summer.
Ohio has already seen fewer coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, particularly among nursing home residents, since vaccinations picked up in January.
But there were still 1,800 new cases reported on Tuesday—a slight increase over the 21-day average— and state health officials are waiting to see whether more contagious virus variants jeopardize those gains before a significant percentage of the population has been vaccinated.
Steven Martin, a professor and dean of Ohio Northern University’s School of Pharmacy, said the immunization effort will likely continue into the fall, given hesitancy among some Ohioans and limited access in rural and medically underserved communities.
“It’s going to be incredibly important to get as many people immune to the disease as quickly as possible,” Martin said, “so that we can choke off the ability of the virus to spread from person to person.”