CLEVELAND — Nearly a million Ohioans are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine under the latest phase of the state’s vaccination rollout, but some patients with life-threatening medical conditions are still in the dark.
Beginning Thursday, people living with type-1 diabetes or ALS, bone marrow transplant recipients, and pregnant women are all eligible for a shot in the arm, along with anyone over the age of 60.
“Governor DeWine is not giving cancer patients that option,” Brittany Henkel. “The common cold, something so small would send my mom in the hospital for five to seven days a time, so who knows what the COVID would do to them? I don't want to find out with my sister.”
Monday, the Ohio Department of Health remained firm in its stance that cancer patients have been excluded because "the number one risk for mortality from COVID-19 is related to age."
“There really is no measure, no way of identifying one's risk of severe illness or death that's better than age,” Chief Medical Officer Bruce Vanderhoff said. “Many of the medical conditions that are not currently on our list of medical conditions are ones that are much more common as we get older.”
Bryan Hannon of the American Cancer Society said it is imperative that cancer patients are added to the eligibility list regardless of age.
“We also know cancer doesn't discriminate on age. There are childhood cancer patients. There are people who are diagnosed with cancer at any age and in any stage of life,” Hannon said. “We've had many cancer patients and survivors reach out to the society in recent days with questions and with confusion.”
Henkel’s mother died of cancer when she was only 52 years old.
“Every woman in our family has passed away of cancer,” Henkel said. “Masks are something that our family was used to because we did it with her.”
Now four years after their mother’s death, Henkel’s sister Jenna Agosto is battling the disease and ineligible for the vaccine because of her age.
“Because she's young and is sick, she's not allowed,” Henkel said. “If she wants to get the vaccination because it makes her feel safe and makes her family feel safer, she feels like she should be allowed to.”
Barb Diver, a nearly 30-year cancer survivor, knows cancer diagnoses can come long before the age of 60.
She was diagnosed at the age of 34.
“I just became eligible, age-wise on Thursday,” Diver said. “Being cancer-free that long is still stressful because you don't know how it's going to impact being able to get your follow-up exams, being able to get what you need.”
Patients, survivors, and their relatives, along with Ohio’s American Cancer Society chapter are pleading with state officials to get vulnerable patients in line for inoculation.
“I think this is more about educating the governor and his team about why COVID-19 poses such a threat to cancer patients and why this vaccine is so important for patients,” Hannon said.
Henkel’s sister will undergo an operation Monday and Henkel hopes DeWine will change the eligibility requirements for the COVID-19 vaccine sooner than later.
“The last thing that I think she wants is to get COVID. She wants to be able to protect herself as much as she can from COVID,” Henkel said. “I just feel like he really needs to realize that people that are immunocompromised, especially cancer patients, should have the opportunity to make the decision if they want to get the shot or not.”