On Thursday, 900,000 additional Ohioans — those age 60 and older and those working in specific occupations — are set to become eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, prompting a margin call for local vaccine carriers still refining the systems that line up those shots.
With more than 3 million Ohioans eligible for the the COVID-19 vaccination, appointments remain elusive — though nearly 450,000 new doses were expected to be in providers' hands this week.
As of Tuesday, about one-third of Ohioans aged 80 and older still hadn't received their first shot of the vaccine, according to the Ohio Department of Health; as well as about half of those aged 70 to 79 and two-thirds of those aged 65 to 69.
While the state's one-stop "clearinghouse" online portal for coronavirus vaccinations remains under wraps, Ohioans bounce between private vaccine providers and local government health departments — a frantic hunt for a place in a growing and already dizzyingly long line.
As vaccine supply is expected to become more robust — the White House on Tuesday promised enough vaccines for all Americans by the end of May — local health officials said they're preparing to grow what's already the largest mass vaccination effort in our lifetime.
Here's how they're doing:
Mahoning County Public Health
After closing vaccine clinic pre-registrations due to "overwhelming demand" last month, the agency continues to work through its backlog of about 15,000 reservations, which is now down to about 5,000, Health Commissioner Ryan Tekac told Mahoning Matters Tuesday.
But there's still no timeline for signups to return, he said. The first-day vaccine pre-registrations opened up for Ohioans in Phase 1B, the agency took more than 1,000 calls a day, Tekac said. The old system became unmanageable.
The agency is considering adopting the state's registration system — expected to be unveiled soon — or developing its own system, which would offer a number of available appointment slots based on the doses expected for the following week.
The agency won't take any new pre-registrations until it unveils the new system, which will offer availability for all phases, including those aged 60 and older.
"We can comfortably go up to 1,500 [appointments] if not more a week but of course, that's going to take resources, which come as staff, volunteers," Tekac said, adding the agency is now bringing on five state-paid nurses to assist at its clinics each weekday at the Austintown Senior Center.
On average, the agency has received between 400 and 500 first doses each week, but are expecting 800 this week. The agency requested 1,200 for next week. To date, nearly 39,829 county residents have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, about 17 percent of the population, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
One county data analyst told Tekac at least half the registrants they're calling back have already received their vaccine elsewhere. If the state can ramp up vaccine supply to the county — and keep it consistent — the time will be right to open up eligibility, Tekac said.
Though the state delivered additional doses to ensure K-12 school workers could be vaccinated in time to get back to in-person learning by March 1, those in the latest eligible occupations are expected to be vaccinated out of providers' base allocations, he said.
"[Residents] need to still be patient. It's going to take some time to work through those groups as well," Tekac said. "Also, search around. There's other providers besides the local health departments."
As vaccine supply catches up with demand, Tekac said he expects scheduling to become more predictable from week to week.
Youngstown City Health District
Health Commissioner Erin Bishop said the registration through the Youngstown City Health District for the upcoming Phase 2 and Phase 1C will start on Thursday.
Bishop said the district is caught up on the waiting list for people aged 65 and older. In mid-February, about 800 people were on the waiting list to get vaccinated.
“[The registration] opens up on Thursday so we’ll get this huge influx again,” Bishop said.
Bishop said the health district will launch a new way for people to register for the vaccine on Thursday.
People will be able to register themselves online instead of having to wait for the health department to call them for an appointment. People without access to a computer can still call the health department to schedule a vaccine appointment, however.
Bishop said the health department wants to give Youngstown residents the first opportunity to the next phase of vaccinations. After a few days, people from elsewhere in Mahoning County can register.
“We’re not strictly Youngstown so we thought we give [residents] a couple of days to register and then open it up for the rest of the county,” Bishop said.
Bishop said the number of vaccines the health department receives each week varies but shipments usually arrive on Wednesday mornings.
Now that more doses are available, Bishop said she hopes there is more of a pattern for the amount and days vaccines are delivered.
Bishop said her goal for the health department is to administer 1,200 doses each week and to work with the county to have mass vaccination clinics in a central location.
With the approval of the new Johnson and Johnson vaccine, Mercy Health received about 2,700 vaccine doses this week, said Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Jim Kravec.
People in Phase 2 can start scheduling their vaccine appointments with Mercy Health starting Thursday. Eligible Ohioans can do so using the Mercy Health hotline or by logging onto Mercy’s patient health system, MyChart.
As more people become eligible, Mercy is expanding its provider locations to include two new sites in Austintown and Liberty, in addition to established sites in Youngstown, North Lima, Howland and Warren. The new locations will open Thursday.
“So my message is, we are ready, prepared,” said Kravec. “We have staffed locations. We have six locations now that are across our Valley, and we’re ready to continue distributing as many vaccines as we’re able to get.”
The locations are operating on weekends, Kravec added.
“Our current sites have the capacity,” he said. “We just don’t have the supply.”
ONE Health Ohio
Mandy Shina, marketing liaison for ONE Health Ohio, said the clinic is still working on Phase B this week since that’s the group for which the doses were allocated. ONE Health Ohio opened its first coronavirus vaccine clinic last week.
Reader Fred Austgen was one of the recipients at Tuesday's clinic, he told Mahoning Matters via Facebook. His neighbor is set for the Thursday clinic, he said.
"We were both eligible [at] the end of January, mid-February and no department or facility had vaccines at that time," he said.
ONE Health Ohio received 200 doses this week that will be distributed from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at Youngstown Community Center, 726 Wick Ave., and the Lloyd McCoy Health Center, 1977 Niles Road SE.
People who qualify for the vaccine can call 330-884-6122 or sign up on the ONE Health Ohio website. People can call early next week for vaccinations for Phase 2 and Phase 1C.
More information and updates will also be posted on the website and ONE Health Ohio Facebook page.
Trumbull County Combined Health District
Trumbull County’s 2,200 vaccine doses have already been allocated for this week, but Ohioans in Phase 2 will be able to schedule vaccine appointments once the county’s new vaccine scheduling system goes live, said Health Educator Jenna Amerine.
The district froze its waiting list last week so it could migrate its vaccine registration process to the state system. There were about 8,000 people on the list, said Director of Nursing Sandy Swann. People on the list have been contacted by the district or by the state to set up their appointments.
“Let’s say we’re booked, for example,” said commissioner Frank Migliozzi, “It’s good that [county residents] have the information on how they can reach out to other providers, so [the new system] will provide that information.”
The new system will also streamline the registration list. Prior to migrating to the state’s registration system, the county’s list included people who had received the vaccine from other providers while waiting to hear back from the county. It also included duplicates from people who had signed up multiple times.
Migliozzi expects the new system to go live by the end of the week, at which point, the county will start scheduling people in Phase 2.
To accommodate the state’s growing eligibility, the district has hosted vaccine clinics on weekends and used volunteers to run simultaneous clinics.
“So I have a team out in the field working and a team here working,” Swann told Mahoning Matters Tuesday afternoon.
To date, 30,600 county residents have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, about 15 percent of the county population, according to ODH.
Columbiana County Health District
The district expects to open the vaccine registration phone lines to those aged 60 and older on Monday, said spokesperson Laura Fauss. She said the district is "glad to see" eligibility expanding, as demand for the vaccine from those 65 and older has slowed in recent weeks.
The district holds drive-thru vaccination clinics in a dedicated building at the Columbiana County Fairgrounds, and patients must reserve their dose by calling 330-692-2210 or 330-429-5133. The district chose not to offer online registrations and instead focused on a call center to better accommodate seniors, Fauss said.
At most, about 700 people can be vaccinated at one of the district's 6-hour clinics, but officials figure workers could "easily" do 1,000 if they conducted 8-hour clinics — provided there was enough vaccine supply, she said.
The district on Monday received 600 vaccine doses for today's clinic, and were also told to expect an additional 300 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, Fauss said.
"It's gradually been increasing," with partners countywide receiving more than 2,000 doses this week, 500 more than they could typically expect in past weeks.
To date, 14,699 county residents have received at least their first dose of the vaccine, about 14 percent of the county population, according to ODH.
Phone lines for the week's clinics open at 9 a.m. on Mondays, Fauss said. Those phone lines only go one-way — the district doesn't have the manpower to call back residents to make appointments. Once all the spots for the week's clinics have been filled, residents will have to call back the following week, she said.
The district expects to set special clinics for those in the new eligible occupations and is reaching out to those groups, Fauss said. The first for funeral workers and law enforcement is set for Saturday. A clinic for childcare workers is still in the works, she added.
— Mahoning Matters reporters Ellen Wagner, Jess Hardin and Justin Dennis contributed to this report.
— Keep up on the latest updates with our Vaccine FAQ List.