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The show's almost over. What comes after Ohio's Vax-a-Million?

Vaccinated summer has come to Ohio, and masks are off. But, as DeWine said Thursday, “We continue to see people die every day in Ohio.”

YOUNGSTOWN — The show’s almost over. 

Wednesday will be Gov. Mike DeWine’s last chance to play Ed McMahon and the state’s last flurry of excitement spurred by DeWine’s vaccine incentive scheme, Vax-a-Million. 

After the last news conference with the state’s final shell-shocked Vax-a-Millionaire, it’s not entirely clear what comes next in the state’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic. 

Vaccinated summer has come to Ohio, and masks are off. 

But, as DeWine said Thursday, “We continue to see people die every day in Ohio.”

Shots Shots Shots 

With a few adjustments to the data, Ohio’s vaccination rates look slightly more hopeful than what the state displays. 

According to the Ohio Department of Health, as of Wednesday, 46.85 percent of Ohioans have received at least one COVID-19 shot. But this figure includes non-eligible Ohioans. 

Of Ohioans 18 and older, 57.61 percent have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Of those 12 years old and older — all medically eligible Ohioans — 54.76 have gotten at least a shot. 

President Biden set a goal to administer at least one shot to 70 percent of American adults by July 4.

Taking only adults into account, Ohio is more than 12 percentage points or about 1.2 million people behind. Between June 6 and June 12, the state administered only 66,744 new first doses.

Local health experts are getting the sense they've vaccinated all who are willing. 

“The people who haven’t gotten them yet are just not getting them,” observed Youngstown City Health Commissioner Erin Bishop.

If Ohio's weekly vaccine uptake rate remained consistent — and it hasn't yet shown signs of stabilizing — Ohio would reach 70 percent vaccinated in 18 weeks, or late October. 

But, based on this week's numbers thus far, the rate will continue to drop. On Friday, only 50,410 new vaccine doses had been administered in the previous six days. 

COVID-19 in Ohio

Nearly 16 months after it was declared, Ohio’s coronavirus state of emergency was lifted, effective Friday 

The state of emergency, along with the state’s pandemic regulations for visitation at nursing homes, were the last health orders to go. 

But the state’s official hand-washing of pandemic regulation doesn’t mean that COVID-19 is gone; now we’re living with it. 

Ohio’s nursing homes are still reporting about 80 new COVID-19 cases per week 

“My quick look ... this morning would indicate we’re still losing 10 people a day still,” said DeWine. 

During a news conference Thursday, he offered condolences to the family of Christopher Jones, a 51-year-old correctional officer at Northeast Ohio Correctional Center who died of complications from COVID-19 earlier his month.  

As coronavirus variants swirl in a state with about half its population vaccinated, the state’s fight against the coronavirus must continue to evolve and respond to the challenges of this often unpredictable pandemic. 

“The one thing we’ve learned about this virus is it’s tricky and it’s hard to predict,” DeWine said. “I don’t think anyone can predict where we’ll be in the fall or where we’ll be in the winter.”

Ohio’s experience of the pandemic in the future will be determined by the success of the state’s vaccine uptake in the coming months, DeWine said. 

In short, “We’re not done yet.”

Incentives and strategies

Vax-a-Million was the state’s first vaccine incentive program, but it may not be the last. 

After next week’s winner is announced, “We’ll have some different incentives,” DeWine said. “We will also be talking in regard to longterm goals.”

Local health departments are also using incentives to get people vaccinated. 

On June 8,  Youngstown City Health Department hosted a vaccination clinic at Henry Stambaugh Golf Course that offered attendees a free round of golf and a chance to win a year-long golf membership. 

Bishop said about 18 people showed up. 

Moreover, Ohio Managed Care plans will start giving $50 gift cards to Medicaid recipients who get vaccinated. 

Bishop is also looking to institute local incentive programs that could simultaneously encourage people to get vaccinated and support local businesses.

But, most of the department’s outreach in the city — where the vaccination rate lags behind the countywide rate by about 10 percent — is data-driven and grassroots. 

Bishop looks at the ZIP code data from ODH, plans clinics in areas with low uptake and department employees go door-to-door to spread the word about the clinic and answer questions about the vaccine. 

She’s hopeful that uptake will increase when kids go back to school, since vaccination will prevent them from having to quarantine and miss school or extra-curricular activities. 

“Our focus is on the kids,” she said. 

So did Vax-a-Million work?

Vaccine uptake in the first two weeks after DeWine’s Vax-a-Million announcement “were phenomenal,” he said. 

But he conceded, “it certainly has leveled off.”

DeWine announced the contest on May 12. The announcement resulted in a bump in vaccine uptake, but it was minimal compared to excitement surrounding the vaccine in February and March. 

Here's a look at new vaccines administrated over the past few weeks. 

  • March 28 to April 3: 461,345 new first doses;
  • April 4 to April 10: 409,281 new first doses;
  • April 11 to 17: 289,076 new first doses;
  • April 18 to April 24: 203,274 new first doses;
  • April 25 to May 1: 155,312 new first doses;
  • May 2 to May 8: 121,994 new first doses;
  • May 9 to May 15: 136,704 new first doses; 
  • May 16 to May 22: 188,474 new first doses;
  • May 23 to May 29: 137,220 new first doses;
  • May 30 to June 5: 91,333 new first doses;
  • June 6 to June 12: 66,744 new first doses.

“It continues to impact people but frankly, it’s hard to quantify,” said DeWine. “But, yes, I’m happy. I’m very, very happy with the way it’s turned out.”

Jess Hardin

About the Author: Jess Hardin

Jess Hardin is a reporter for Mahoning Matters. She grew up in Pittsburgh and last worked at The Vindicator. Jess graduated from Georgetown University.
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