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VACCINE FAQs | What Mahoning Valley residents need to know about getting the COVID-19 shots

From "What are the side effects?" to "Where can I register for an appointment?" Mahoning Matters has answered your most pressing questions about getting vaccinated.
vaccine

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was last updated March 3, 2021.]

YOUNGSTOWN — About three months after the COVID-19's vaccine debut in Ohio, all adults in the state will be eligible to receive the vaccine starting March 29.

Prior to the final step in the statewide roll out, Ohioans age 40 and older and Ohioans with certain medical conditions — cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and obesity — can start getting shots March 19.

These final groups that become eligible March 19 number about 1.6 million.

If you have additional questions, please email Mahoning Matters at news@mahoningmatters.com. We will be adding to this article as new information becomes available. 

I’m eligible to receive the vaccine! Can I just walk into a Giant Eagle Pharmacy and get it?

Technically, no. However, it's not uncommon for providers to have leftove vaccine doses at the end of the day. So, it's possible to score a vaccine without an appointment if you show up at the right time. 

How do I register?

On March 9, Gov. Mike DeWine unveiled a centralized online portal for vaccine scheduling, which can be found at gettheshot.coronavirus.ohio.gov.

When Ohioans visit the website, they can first determine if they are eligible to receive the vaccine and then schedule an appointment from a provider in a 20-mile radius. 

You can also continue registering directly with providers.

If you live in Mahoning County, you can register at one of the following sites. Many providers require online registration. Click the provider’s name to visit their website:

If you live in Trumbull County, you can register at one of the following sites. Many providers require online registration. Click the provider’s name to visit their website:

If you live in Columbiana County, you can register at one of the following sites. Many providers require online registration. Click the provider’s name to visit their website:

I don’t have internet access.  I’m unable to register online. What can I do?

Several providers are taking registrations by phone. Many, however, are not and require you to use an online portal to sign up.

Those who don’t have internet access or are finding it difficult to use the online portals should dial the 2-1-1 help line — in the Mahoning Valley, that’s operated by Help Network of Northeast Ohio — or contact an agent at their local area agency on aging, who can help guide them through the process over the phone. The Valley’s local agency is Direction Home of Eastern Ohio, which can be reached at 330-505-2300 or 800-686-7367.

Ok, so you're telling me I have to call around to all of these places until I can get an appointment somewhere?

That's right. Some people are putting themselves on health department lists but also shopping around at local pharmacies. If you are able to get the vaccine from one provider but have already scheduled an appointment at another, health officials recommend that you call to cancel.

“The question that’s come is: it seems like a free for all. People are calling, getting on the lists. Why does the city have one system, the county has one system, Mercy has another system,” said Kravec. “All I can say is, I acknowledge that. That’s true. I would love to have a more coordinated effort, meaning from a federal or state [level]. We have what we have right now.”

He noted he works closely with health leaders in the area, so the response is coordinated in that sense, but “I wish it was more coordinated from the whole state. I think it would be better,” Kravec said.

Why isn’t there a vaccination site at the Canfield Fairgrounds?

Local officials considered using the Canfield Fairgrounds for vaccine distribution, as they did when distributing H1N1 vaccines, said Mahoning County Health Commissioner Ryan Tekac. But Austintown trustees offered the community’s newly built senior center, which is located near the MCPH office. 

“What I essentially call this is our vaccine campus,” said Tekac. “We can float from our main building to the senior center very quickly with staff, with vaccine and ensure that we’re vaccinating individuals in a safe manner.”

How are the providers organizing distribution? Am I on a list?

Local public health departments are keeping lists of people registered to receive the vaccine. So, if you register with any of the health departments, you are on a list and just have to wait for the department to call you to schedule your appointment. 

At Mercy Health and the retail pharmacies, you are not registered for an appointment until you speak with someone on the phone using the number listed above ro get an appointment slot online. Unfortunately, that can require calling multiple times, waiting on hold or checking the website multiple times daily. 

Do I have to get the vaccine in the county where I live?

According to Laura Fauss, public information officer for Columbiana County Health District, the vaccine is a federal resource, so people cannot be turned away for not living in the county. However, “we are allocated vaccine due to population so we try to stick with residency if we can,” Fauss said.

I’m on a list to receive the vaccine, but I haven’t received a call from the health department. When will I hear?

As frustrating as the process may be, public health officials are asking people who have signed up to be patient. Youngstown City Health Commissioner Erin Bishop described it this way: “Today when we pulled our list, there were 900 people that were still on our list to be called. ... So you have to try to call 900 people within one week, and it’s a daunting task.” Mercy Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. James Kravec noted: “Monday morning between 8 o’clock and 8:10, just the Youngstown-area Mercy received 950 phone calls in 10 minutes. And so, as good as we wanted it to be, IT couldn’t keep up” and the phone system went down.

Have any vaccine doses been wasted locally?

“At Mercy, we have not wasted a single dose,” Kravec said. Feb. 9. No doses have been wasted among the vaccines administered by MCPH or Youngstown City Health Department, either.

I’m at least 60 years old. When can I get the vaccine?

Here is the schedule for when each age group becomes eligible for the vaccine in Ohio:

  • Jan. 18: Age 80 and older
  • Jan. 25: Age 75 and older and Ohioans with severe medical conditions
  • Feb. 1: Age 70 and older and K-12 school staff
  • Feb. 8: Age 65 and older
  • March 4: Age 60 and older and Ohioans with Type 1 Diabetes, ALS, bone marrow recipients and anyone who is pregnant
  • March 11: Age 50 and older and Ohioans with end-stage renal disease and Type 2 Diabetes
  • March 19: Age 40 and older and Ohioans with cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and obesity 
  • March 29: Age 16 and older 

I’m an essential worker. Can I get the vaccine?

Healthcare workers who treat COVID-19 patients as well as employees of long term care facilities and frontline medical responders became eligible to receive the vaccine with Phase 1A. As of Feb. 1, school employees were able to start getting vaccinated under Phase 1B. As of March 4, those working in law enforcement, child care and the funeral service industry became eligible to get vaccinated under Phase 1C. 

I’m younger than 40. When can I get the vaccine?

Gov. DeWine announced March 16 that Ohioans 16 and older are eligible to get the vaccine March 29. 

What kinds of medical conditions make someone eligible to receive the vaccine in Phases 1B, 1C, 1D and 1E?

According to the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohioans with the following disorders are eligible to receive the vaccine in Phase 1B: cerebral palsy; spina bifida; congenital heart disease; type 1 diabetes; inherited metabolic disorders; severe neurological disorders including epilepsy; severe genetic disorders including Down’s Syndrome, Fragile X, Prader Willi Syndrome, Turner Syndrome; severe lung disease including cystic fibrosis and severe asthma; sickle cell anemia; alpha- and beta-thalassemia. 

People with these disorders can start receiving the vaccine the week of Jan. 25. 

As of March 4, those with Type 1 Diabetes, ALS, bone marrow recipients and anyone who is pregnant can receive the vaccine under Phase 1C.

As of March 11, Ohioans with end-stage renal disease and Type 2 Diabetes can receive the vaccine under Phase 1D.

As of March 19, Ohioans with cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and obesity can start getting shots under Phase 1E.

Will the vaccine cost me anything? What if I don’t have insurance?

Vaccines will be provided at no cost to Valley residents. Some locations charge the individual's insurance provider, but most will not.

Will there be any side effects from the vaccine? How should I expect to feel after?

Both available vaccines are delivered as a shot in the arm, like other vaccines you've received. So, you could expect some tenderness at the injection site. Some people experience an immune response — like fever, fatigue and aches — to the vaccine. That's normal, said Mercy Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Jim Kravec. It's possible you'd need to take a day off of work or school. Severe reactions to the vaccine are extremely rare — 5.5 cases for every million doses of vaccine administered in the U.S. 

It’s not uncommon to experience a stronger immune response when you receive the second dose, especially if you have not had COVID-19, said Kravec. 

What is the difference between the vaccines available?

Currently, three COVID-19 vaccines have been granted emergency use authorization by the FDA — one created by Moderna, one created by Pfizer-BioNTech and one created by Johnson and Johnson. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are nearly identical in terms of effectiveness, said Dr. Kravec, and both require two doses. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine requires only one dose.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is harder to transport, because it must be stored at a very cold temperature. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine, however, may be stored at regular refrigeration temperatures, thus making it much easier to transport. People receiving the Moderna vaccine must wait one month before receiving their second dose. The period between doses for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is three weeks. Also, the Moderna vaccine is approved for people age 18 and older. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for people age 16 and older.

Though the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is less effective than the others at preventing illness from COVID-19, it has proven 100 percent effective at preventing death from COVID-19, according to Ohio Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff.

Can I choose which vaccine to get?

No. The vaccine you receive will depend on the shipment your provider receives that week.

I’ve already had COVID-19. Do I still need to get the vaccine?

Yes. The immunity you gain from having an infection, called natural immunity, varies from person to person, and experts don’t know how long it lasts. Due to the health risks of COVID-19, and because re-infection is possible, people who have had COVID-19 are still advised to get the vaccine, according to the Ohio Department of Health

Can I get COVID-19 from the COVID-19 vaccine?

No. None of the COVID-19 vaccines being developed in the United States use the live virus that causes COVID-19.

If I get the vaccine, does that mean I can stop wearing my mask?

No. The vaccine will prevent people from getting sick with COVID-19, but experts don't yet know if the vaccine prevents people from spreading the virus, according to The New York Times. Researchers are now exploring this question, but in the meantime, vaccinated people should think of themselves as potential COVID-19 spreaders, experts say. So continue to mask up, maintain social distancing and wash your hands frequently. 

How do I volunteer to help?

Individuals can sign up to volunteer through the Medical Reserve Corps. The state is currently recruiting people to help with vaccine distribution. According to the website, Physicians, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy interns, emergency medical technicians, dentists, dental hygienists, optometrists, respiratory care professionals, and veterinarians are encouraged to volunteer.

“I would encourage anyone that wants to potentially volunteer to go to on there, sign up and when that time comes, we can give you a call to potentially help us out,” said Tekac. 

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Reporters Justin Dennis and Ellen Wagner contributed to this report.