CLEVELAND — As the race to reach herd immunity in Ohio slows, concerns of a possible vaccine plateau are top-of-mind for health experts.
Some vaccine distribution sites in Northeast Ohio are taking to social media to announce open walk-in opportunities to avoid wasting doses of the shot.
So why the sudden slow-down of shots in the arm?
“Certainly there's a lot of vaccine hesitancy,” Dr. Amy Edwards said. “But if you look at the polls, that's really fallen off a lot. You really do have to discuss vaccine access.”
As the marathon race to the finish line trudges on, advocates fear vaccine distribution efforts in the Buckeye State are running headfirst into hurdles.
“There's a difference between accessibility and access,” Yvonka Hall said. “We actually need to go sit down with our data people and say, ‘Where are the people? Where do they live?’ And then drill down to those neighborhoods.”
As of Tuesday, 35% of Ohioans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while only 23% of the state’s total population is fully vaccinated.
Edwards said she is keeping a close eye on other countries overseas seemingly hitting the same plateau.
“You can see it. There are a few countries that are ahead of us,” Edwards said. “A lot of those countries are coming to a screeching halt somewhere in the 50 to 70% range, so I think that is absolutely a real concern.”
On March 31, 98,801 Ohioans received their first dose of the vaccine.
On April 10, 41,201 Ohioans received their first dose of the vaccine.
Sunday, however, fewer than 12,000 Ohioans received their first shot in the arm.
“It's time to sit back and reevaluate what's going on? Who's not there? Not look at just zip code data, but look at addresses,” Hall said. “We need to pivot our services and make sure that our services are now tailored to the households to meet those communities that need the vaccine the most.”
Hall is the executive director of the Black Health Coalition and said the initial vaccination sign-up momentum is wearing off for a number of reasons, including health and transportation inequities in minority communities.
“That's a community that normally doesn't need to go to the Wolstein Center, so many of those in the community don't even know where the Wolstein Center is,” Hall said. “We have many people who don't have wifi. We also have people who have minute phones. Those phones don't allow you to sit and wait and wait and wait, especially when you only get so many minutes for the month.”
Hall said zip code vaccine evaluations lead to skewed data and is calling for more boots on the ground efforts to reach under-served communities.
“If you go by zip code, remember that a lot of our zip code data is neighborhoods that overlap. We have these overlaps, so that means that if those communities of Garfield, Warrensville Heights, or Shaker are doing the vaccinations at a high rate, it looks like the people in Cleveland are,” Hall said. “We need to make sure that we have these vaccination sites in their neighborhoods. Sending out a mailer, if that means making a call if that means stopping by and then letting them know that it's available and that there's going to be vaccinations in their community.”
Edwards agrees there is more to be done.
“The Wolstein Center is this big, sexy, ‘Look we're vaccinating 6,000 people a day. Isn't that amazing?’ We've got to start taking the vaccines into the community and doing it,” Edwards said. “Even if your clinic is reaching small amounts of people, every person vaccinated is one less person that's likely to end up hospitalized. Vaccine appointments are going unfilled, so I know there were a lot of people who tried to get vaccinated at the beginning who were so frustrated they dropped out of the process. I think now's the time to come back into the process.”
The Black Health Coalition is calling on all Ohioans to adopt the same “in this together” mentality that echoed through communities a year ago.
“This is not time for us to pull up our roots,” Hall said. “This is time for us to dig in our heels and say what are our other plans of operations? What are some of the other things that we need to do in order for marginalized communities to get the vaccination?”