CLEVELAND — Wicked winter weather across Ohio and the rest of the nation over the past week has wreaked havoc on the vaccine distribution and supply chain, forcing COVID-19 vaccination events and appointments to be delayed or canceled altogether. The delays have also furthered the frustrations of those who had appointments that were affected.
Gov. Mike DeWine and public health leaders from Cuyahoga, Geauga and Medina counties publicly acknowledged the vaccine supply chain disruptions this week as a historic winter storm brought bone-chilling temperatures, power outages and heaps of snow from Ohio to Texas.
In Cuyahoga county, Health Commissioner Terry Allan said Friday that the county board of health was still planning on moving forward with its upcoming vaccine clinics but anticipated using a high number of vaccine doses that they have available.
“We’ll just use a larger proportion and get up against our allotted doses. We also have some second dose allocations that we can dig into moving forward,” Allan said. “Next week, we’ll get a double shipment… which will allow us to continue without interruption and we’re glad about that.”
In Geauga County, public health officials said in a Facebook post that the number of available doses would be exhausted after vaccine clinics on Friday and Saturday. Medina County public health officials also said in a Facebook post that the supply chain disruptions may force the rescheduling of appointments for residents ready to receive their second dose.
For those seeking vaccines through the litany of local pharmacies and grocery stores around the state of Ohio, the supply chain disruptions have also forced the cancellation of upcoming appointments.
Marissa Little of Akron had signed up her parents for a vaccine appointment. Then, on Wednesday night, she said her father was notified by Rite Aid that his upcoming appointment for the following day would need to be rescheduled until the middle of March.
“I’ll be real honest. The 'what ifs' started rolling in. I started asking myself, what happens if they get sick in the three weeks?” Little said. “It really had a spread out impact, at least for my family. I also realize that there are a lot of other community members that have been impacted too.”
Little said she immediately thought of older residents and those with compromised immune systems or those that may not have reliable transportation that may have been impacted by the rescheduled appointments. Particularly frustrating, Little said, was how far out the appointments were rescheduled.
“I think they should have moved the entire scheduling block. It would have impacted the whole community that had already signed up, fairly,” Little said. “I should also mention that life isn’t fair. I get that. But, personally, I think we should always be striving for what helps all of us in an equitable way. For example, a cashier has to refill the register roll and there is a delay in your service. They don’t tell the first two or three people to go to the back of the line and then help the fourth. They make everyone wait and that is business.”
In a statement, a Rite Aid representative said the vaccine shipment delays, while extremely unfortunate, were out of the company’s control.
"Due to supply interruptions beyond our control, including severe winter weather impacting much of the United States this week, the U.S. government is experiencing delays in COVID-19 vaccine shipments and deliveries to participants of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program,” the statement reads. “The supply interruption has caused us to reschedule a limited number of appointments this week at select Rite Aid locations serving as Federal Retail Pharmacy Program vaccination sites. We have already contacted affected individuals and their appointments have been automatically rescheduled for the soonest possible date. If you were not contacted about rescheduling, then your appointment has not been affected and we encourage you to keep it as previously scheduled.”
Little said while she understands that the vaccine supply disruptions were out of everyone’s control, given the fact that the weather is predictably unpredictable, contingency plans should have been in place. Little was also critical of the technology-centered sign up process, which can be challenging for those without easy access to a computer or the internet.
“What’s Rite Aid’s plan? What’s CVS’ plan? What’s Walgreens’ plan should there be another snow event? We live in Northeast Ohio. Things are going to happen,” Little said. “I love Rite Aid. I actually just picked up my prescription today. I’m not mad at my pharmacist. I'm mad at the policy. It needs to be more thoughtful and intentional and community focused. It just wasn’t that way, in my opinion.”
Luckily, Little’s parents were able to secure a different vaccine appointment with the Summit County Board of Health, she said. However, family, friends and other loved ones have not been as fortunate.