LORAIN COUNTY, Ohio — Nearly 400,000 Ohioans have received at least their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine through Friday and public health leaders and advocacy groups are preparing to usher in the next phase. Officials are turning their focus on Phase 1B, a possibly tough-to-reach population, including those 80 and older.
Mary Lipovan, the director of public health advocacy at the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging said when Gov. Mike DeWine unveiled the Phase 1B rollout schedule earlier this week, the agency was inundated with callers interested in more information.
“In the last two and a half days, we have received close to 700 calls,” Lipovan said. “We realize that everyone is very interested in specific COVID information and resources in their area. We want to give them that little bit of comfort to have patience. It’s all going to happen in time. We’ve been hearing about the vaccine for so long, there’s so much anticipation building up for it. Part of it is we can only deliver what we have.”
To help guide their members and other seniors interested in information, the WRAAA unveiled a new online resource designed to address questions about the vaccine as well as help direct those living in Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Medina counties to available resources. Those resources include location and contact information on places and agencies that already have or should have vaccines available in the coming weeks.
“In a normal situation, places of worship and senior centers would be the go to place but so many of them are closed down now or under limited hours so they don’t even have the normal resources,” Lipovan said. “Now that we have the list of providers, our grocery store pharmacies and local pharmacies are the point where they’re getting the vaccines so they are a great point to get information as well.”
With a similar goal in mind, Lorain County Public Health Director Dave Covell said his agency has also developed a one-stop-shop for available resources. Users are able to complete a form to be notified of available vaccines at one of the several vaccination centers across the county.
“One of the problems you run into now is there is just still more demand than supply. When we do our vaccination clinics, we can do about a 1000 in one day. Those are mass vaccination clinics,” Covell said. “It’s easier for us to communicate electronically to push that out and tell people to come. But that’s also why so many partners are involved. We want to get the barriers out of the way to get people vaccinated.”
Both Covell and Lipovan are acutely aware of the potential challenges that an online-focused outreach effort presents, especially when its targeting older Ohioans that might not have access to the internet or a smartphone. Both agencies can provide information over the phone but they are also focused on using the vast network of providers, drug stores, grocery store pharmacies and other entities. The network aims to be able to provide information and resources at seemingly every possible angle.
"We’ve been playing defense all year and I’m excited to be playing offense but you know it gets tiring playing both,” Covell said. “We’re excited about being able to mass vaccinate.”Covell said.
Lorain County Public Health is anticipating another shipment of vaccines to arrive next week. Of the 1400 the agency initially received, more than 1370 doses have been used. According to the Ohio Department of Health, beginning the week of Jan. 18, vaccine providers will begin receiving their first shipments of vaccines intended for those 80 and older. The following week, vaccines will be available for those 75 and older. Ohioans 70 and older will be eligible during the week of Feb. 1 and those 65 and older will be eligible come Feb. 8.