DeWine: Youngstown Ramps Up Vaccine Efforts but ‘We’re Not Done Yet’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – On Monday morning, Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown sat in a small room joined to a gymnasium, getting his COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination site at Eugenia Atkinson Recreation Center on Youngstown’s north side.

In the small crowd also stood Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who stopped by to check in on Mahoning County’s vaccination efforts. 

The visit coincided with the day Ohio was projected to reach 2.8 million residents who received at least one dose of a vaccine, or roughly a quarter of the state. Monday was also projected to be the day the state recorded its 1 millionth COVID-19 case. Entering the day, Ohio’s estimated cases were at 999,750 since the start of the pandemic. Over the past 21 days, the state has averaged 1,539 new cases per day.

DeWine said Ohio’s approach to distributing the vaccines is focused more on local distribution than setting up mass vaccination sites and requiring people to travel. He applauded Mahoning County and the city of Youngstown for their vaccination execution.

“There’s all kinds of ways to reach people,” DeWine said. “It’s our obligation and the local health departments’ and the mayors’ obligation to take the vaccine to the people of this state, take it to the people of the Mahoning Valley. And they’ve done a very, very fine job here, but we’re not done yet.”

DeWine stressed the importance of the vaccine and continuing to wear a mask. He said states like West Virginia and Michigan have started to see an uptick in cases while Ohio has leveled off.

“It would appear that we’re now starting to plateau,” DeWine said. “And of course our concern is that we start back up.”

While DeWine praised the community’s vaccination efforts, improving the vaccination numbers for minority communities is an area that needs improving, according to DeWine, Brown and Erin Bishop, commissioner of the Youngstown City Health District. 

“We’ve been more successful recently,” DeWine said. “I’m looking at those numbers that are reported every day and that ratio between the White number and the African American number is getting better. But we have a long ways to go.”

Bishop highlighted the Youngstown’s approach in the early stages of testing and vaccination. Going to pastors and other religious leaders and reaching out to community leaders were some of the early strategies.

Only 3,587 Black residents – just under 10% of the county’s total population –  have received the first round of a vaccine and only 1,790 (4.87% of the overall population) have completed the vaccine regimen, according to the Ohio Department of Health’s vaccine dashboard. Entering Monday, 59,635 county residents started the vaccine process and 35,623 have completed it.

“As of last week we were at 33% [vaccinated] in our minority population, which I think is great,” Bishop said. “We know it’s not the best. We want it to be better, so we’ll continue to [work with the community] until we’re happy with where we’re at.”

Statewide, the overwhelming majority of vaccines have gone to White residents. Of the 2.7 million shots given, 2.2 million recipients have been White.

A report issued by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy attributes the disparities seen nationwide to a range of factors, including distrust of federal public health efforts because of historic malpractice and disinformation campaigns online.

That was the reason Brown received his vaccine publicly. He wanted to lead by example in hopes that more of Youngstown’s population would follow.

“Minorities are more hesitant and we want to remove those myths,” Brown said. “We want to make sure they’re armed with the facts.”

Bishop said there are a few more vaccination openings in the coming days. She said there were openings at the Spanish Evangelical Church (March 20), Metro Assembly Church (March 31) and the Covelli Centre (April 1).

The city will also hold a memorial Friday evening at Wean Park for those who died of COVID-19. Brown asked for the families to bring pictures of those who died and who are still suffering from the disease’s effect.

“We just want to take a moment this Friday at 6:30, just to take a moment to remember them and let them know we still support them,” Brown said. “We want to remember their family members lost due to COVID-19.”

Pictured: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine joined Youngstown Mayor Jamael Tito Brown at the city’s vaccination site at the the Eugenia Atkinson Recreation Center on Monday.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.