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Serious medical conditions still left off Ohio's vaccine list even with new rollout

ODH says it's 'following CDC,' but is it?
Serious medical conditions are still left off Ohio's vaccine list even with new rollout.
Posted at 5:45 AM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 19:25:43-05

CLEVELAND — Starting today, people in Ohio who have certain medical conditions, regardless of age, can start getting COVID vaccines. However, there are many patients very upset they are not on Ohio’s list.

“There are a lot of people who are probably in my same situation,” said Linda Armstead, 64, from Shaker Heights.

You might remember earlier this month we reported she has Multiple Sclerosis. To this day, she has had no luck getting a vaccine.

“I can’t function,” said Armstead. “I can’t go back to work because walking was like lifting tree stumps.”

She said she called the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and the Ohio Department of Health and both told her she should be on the list.

We checked with Cuyahoga County and the board of health said its “…call center was in error…” about Armstead’s case.

The qualified conditions on the state’s site say “severe neurological disorders” but MS isn’t spelled out. The Ohio Department of Health told us Armstead isn’t eligible for today’s new group either because it “…is for those with early onset OR born with these type(s) of conditions where COVID puts them at very high risk of dying.”

“And so, I’m still beating the bushes,” said Armstead.

OH CANCER PATIENTS ARE WORRIED

Others are, too, including cancer patients. We talked with a local mother, 75, whose 47-year-old daughter has an aggressive form of breast cancer. The mother didn’t want to go on camera but she worries that cancer, of all things, is not on the state’s conditions list.

“I would consider them a risk group, absolutely, and I know that they are,” said Sean Shacklett. He is the Executive Director of Susan G. Komen Northeast Ohio that advocates for breast cancer patients.

He said cancer treatments can wreck people’s immune systems making them more susceptible to COVID.

“Your white blood cells…the cells that are used to fight infection and stave off disease are also killed by the chemotherapy and the radiation,” he told us.

Cancer is on the list of many states like Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Texas and even the CDC spells it out. However, in Ohio cancer patients are not included in this phase.

Some are calling for more transparency in “the process that they’re using to make selections within a group to get in line for the vaccines,” said Armstead.

ODH RESPONDS TO WHY CANCER IS NOT INCLUDED

The Ohio Department of Health said cancer has been excluded because “..the number one risk for mortality from COVID-19 is related to age…” and that the department is “…following (the) CDC.”

But is it when it comes to cancer? Again, the CDC does list cancer as a qualified condition.

And, by the way, Armstead is a cancer survivor, too. “The last thing you want to do is be going through chemo and radiation and try to attempt to save your life and get COVID,” she told us.

Plus, at age 64, she just missed the 65-year-old cutoff age that had been in place just a week ago. “People with medical issues in the 1B area are kind of being missed,” said Armstead.

Here are the complete statements from the Cuyahoga County Board of Health and the Ohio Department of Health:

CCBH

“The qualifier is the language contained in the Phase 1B graphic attached here:

“…individuals must have a developmental or intellectual disability and one of the following conditions…”

Presuming that your viewer does not fit that description, our call center representative was in error by only looking at medical conditions as a qualifier.

It is our understanding that most people who do qualify under those circumstances are being connected through the county board of developmental disabilities. As CCBH, we would not be making decisions about whether people qualify using this criteria.”

ODH

“You are correct that on Monday that qualifier does go away and eligibility will expand to any individual with one of the conditions listed. Also the woman with MS would not be eligible at this time because this category on February 15 is for those with early onset OR born with these type of conditions where COVID puts them at very high risk of dying from COVID.

Right now cancer is also not on the list because we are following CDC and it is not a condition that people are born with. Vaccine is still very scarce. The data tells us very clearly that the number one risk for mortality from COVID-19 is related to age. When you keep everything else equal, age is the thing that points most clearly to the risk of mortality. By setting the 65-year-old limit, if you've heard this statistics, we're able to cover about 87% of that risk.

There are many worthy groups and many high priority groups. Cancer patients are not in Phase 1A or Phase 1B unless they meet the other age criteria, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be included in other vaccination priority groups. Our goal right now is to focus on groups at high-risk for transmission and complications first. We also want to prioritize high-risk groups, but we also need to do it in a way that’s equitable. “