DeWine Visits Youngstown Clinic at ‘Critical Point’ for Vaccinations

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – During a tour of Youngstown’s mass vaccination clinic Thursday morning, Gov. Mike DeWine said that while the number of new cases in Ohio is starting to drop, the state is still at a “really critical point” in fighting the coronavirus.

With Ohio set to hit 4.5 million people with at least one shot today, those who were most at-risk and anxious to get the shot likely already have. Now, the task is convincing the rest of the state to get theirs.

“It’s critical because we have a variant out there that is multiplying and about 40% more contagious. That’s the danger we have out there. We’re in a race to get people vaccinated fast enough so it can’t take over,” DeWine said at the Covelli Centre. “For those who have not been vaccinated, this is probably the most dangerous time. … What we don’t want is people see the headlines about how many people are vaccinated and that we’re moving in the right direction. But if you’re not vaccinated, you’re susceptible to this new variant. We don’t want people lulled into a false sense of security.”

Youngstown City Health District has vaccinated about 23,000 people in the city, reported commissioner Erin Bishop, while Mahoning County Public Health has given about 20,000 shots, according to commissioner Ryan Tekac. According to the Ohio Department of Health, about 38% of the county’s population is vaccinated, ahead of the state average.

But, Mayor Jamael Tito Brown said, the number of new vaccinations is trailing off. It’s been a mix of concerns over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that was paused by the FDA, reaching the maximum number of people eager to get vaccinated and a matter of access, the health commissioners said.

“We’re at a point in the plateau, across the state and across the nation, where there’s a slow down. People are more hesitant than ever,” Brown said. “That’s why I want to introduce this Minority Community Vaccine Action Group. We know there are barriers and that’s why this team came together to remove them.” 

Gov. Mike DeWine, First Lady Fran DeWine and Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown talk to a family as they wait to get their COVID-19 vaccine at the Covelli Centre.

The action group is available to schedule vaccination appointments at any location in the county and provide door-to-door transportation. All services are free. To schedule a vaccine appointment, call or text “Need Vaccine” to 330 207 3461; to schedule transportation, call 330 716 2684 or 330 716 2843.

“Our goal is to increase vaccinations for Blacks and Hispanics. We do this by removing three key barriers: access to information to help decide, simplify registration and, most importantly, free transportation,” said Andrea Mahone Blackmon, transportation director for the Minority Community Action Group. “We’re offering hope and getting rid of fear in our communities.”

Supporting the transportation program are the Mercy Health Foundation, Western Reserve Health Foundation, Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley and the Raymond John Wean Foundation.

The partnership to deliver this service – it’s also funded in part by an Ohio Department of Health grant awarded to the county health department, which passed the money along to Youngstown City Health District – is an important part of keeping Mahoning County ahead of the curve.

“We won’t force anyone to get the vaccine, but what the health departments are doing – this community has come together,” he said. “This vaccine is how we get our freedom back. This vaccine is how we get our world back. To get there, we’ve got to have everybody get their opportunity.” 

The state grant, Tekac said, was earmarked for addressing inequities in the administration of the vaccine. With that caveat, addressing transportation was an almost instant idea.

“When we talk about health equity, it’s normally low-income and minority communities that lack accessible, safe transportation. When we got together as a group for this coalition, one of those barriers we wanted to tear down was the transportation barrier,” Tekac said. “At Mahoning County Public Health, we’ve always had transportation for our WIC program and for our Pathways HUB program, which helps at-risk mothers achieve healthy outcomes.” 

Within city limits, Bishop says the city has been working with churches to host clinics, including one at New Bethel Baptist Church that administered 400 shots on Wednesday. Now, the attention is turning toward smaller churches that may be serving a smaller – but no less important – number of people.

“There are also smaller churches that want to do their part. We’re working with Mercy Health and their foundation to get out to them,” Bishop said. “We’ve been so lucky to have churches and community centers step up.”

Now, she continued, attention is turning toward diving into data to direct the city health department’s approach to getting vaccines into the community. Already, the department has rotated clinics through the city, hosting local clinics on each side of Youngstown along with its mass clinic at the Covelli Centre. 

“We’re lucky to be able, through Johns Hopkins University and the Bloomberg Foundation, to get us data we can work with. I’ve been working with people from London and Brazil going through our data in the city of Youngstown,” Bishop said. “I can see where we need to be going. 44504, I don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re the highest vaccinated ZIP code in the city. My area, 44511, has been slow, so we know we need to get them here.”

Pictured at top: Youngstown City Health District commissioner Erin Bishop introduced Gov. Mike DeWine and First Lady Fran DeWine to Ana Ruiz, a health department employee who’s been crucial in setting up appointments for Spanish-speaking residents.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.