Counties Need More Vaccines to Catch up to Demand

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — With Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination plan gearing up for its sixth week, area health departments say demand is far outpacing vaccine supply. And unless the quantity of vaccines increases, that likely won’t change for a while.

On Feb. 11, Mahoning County Public Health announced it was closing its pre-registration for vaccinations until it can catch up to the more than 15,000 residents on its waiting list. Mahoning County Health Commissioner Ryan Tekac says pre-registrations for Phase 1B vaccinations will continue once those residents have been inoculated, but it will take some time if the county doesn’t receive more doses.

“I’m going to remain hopeful that vaccine supply will start to meet the demand,” Tekac says. “We’re working very hard here. Long nights, long weekends, holidays to ensure we can vaccinate as quick as we receive the vaccine.”

On average, the health department receives about 400 to 500 doses weekly for first dose vaccination clinics, Tekac says. This week, the department requested and received 800 doses of vaccine from the Ohio Department of Health for first-time vaccinations of residents 80 years and older.

“We have a good number of probably 800 or so who are 80 and older who have pre-registered with us, but weren’t able to get vaccinated,” he says. “That’s currently who we’re calling now.”

Tekac expects all of those doses to be exhausted by the end of the week. Should the department get to the end of its waiting list of residents 80 and older, it will start calling those who are at least 75 to schedule for first-time vaccinations, he says.

Since the start of the vaccinations, Mahoning County Public Health has administered 5,772 first doses and 823 second doses.

According to the ODH’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, there have been 30,764 residents (13.45% of the population) to receive at least the first dose as of Feb. 16. That compares to 11,839 (11.62%) in Columbiana County and 22,238 (11.23%) in Trumbull County.

The state sends second doses the week before based on information they keep in their system on those who received the first dose compared to any updated numbers provided by the county health department, Tekac adds.

Columbiana County Health District has been operating two call lines for vaccine registrations and is still in the process of taking reservations for this week’s clinic, says its public information officer, Laura Fauss. In January, the district administered some 1,300 vaccinations, she says.

This week, the department expects to vaccinate some 600 individuals through its drive-thru vaccination clinic, she says. However, there are thousands of people calling each week, she notes.

“Our phones are getting overwhelmed,” she says. “With the amount of people who are available to receive the vaccine – about 20,000 – we receive 500 to 600 doses a week.”

For the last two weekends, the district opened a hotline for residents 75 and older who still haven’t gotten their vaccine. Staff reaches out to those individuals as doses come available, Fauss says.

The district is working to use every drop of vaccine they can. Using a zero-headspace, or low dead space syringe, providers can pull an extra 11th dose out of Moderna vials and a sixth dose out of Pfizer vials, Fauss says. “You have a better chance of getting an extra dose that way,” she says.

The state sends the needed equipment for the vaccines, however they don’t always send those specialty syringes, Fauss says.

Each week, the district calls an additional 20 to 30 individuals and puts them on a separate list. If at the end of the week they get through all of their reservations and there are still doses remaining, “we call them and we wait for them” at the drive-thru clinic, she says.

“As long as they’re within about 20 to 30 minutes of the [Columbiana County] fairgrounds, we take them and put them on a waiting list,” she says.

Despite those efforts, the county isn’t immune to the primary issue that there just isn’t enough vaccine doses to go around.

“Unless we get more vaccine, there isn’t really anything else we can do,” Fauss says. “The age range will stop at 65 and older for a while. Frankly, with the amount of vaccine that we’re receiving countywide, it will take quite a while to get caught up.”

Last week, the district did complete vaccinations of all the schools on its list. In one week, the district vaccinated some 600 staff and faculty at Southern Local School District/Utica Shale Academy, Wellsville Local Schools, Leetonia Exempted Village School District, Lisbon Exempted Village Schools, Crestview Local School District and United Local School District, as well as some 150 for smaller schools in the area.

East Liverpool City Schools, Salem City Schools, East Palestine City School District, Columbiana Exempted Village School District and Beaver Local School District received vaccinations through other providers.

On Tuesday, Salem Regional Medical Center announced registrations for its vaccine clinic on Feb. 18 hit its maximum capacity based on the supply of 200 vaccines.

On Feb. 19 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., One Health Ohio will be offering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Youngstown Community Health Center at 726 Wick Ave., Youngstown, and the Lloyd McCoy Community Health Center at 1977 Niles Cortland Road SE, Warren. Vaccinations will be scheduled by appointment only for residents who are 65 years old and older, or anyone with a qualifying health issue, according to a release.

To schedule an appointment with One Health Ohio, go to OneHealthOhio.org/covid-19.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.