CLEVELAND — If you don’t currently qualify to receive the COVID-19 vaccine under the state’s vaccination program, don’t count on getting an early appointment in Northeast Ohio, in spite of the governor’s announcement Monday allowing providers to give unused vaccine doses to anyone over 16 years old.
What was the governor's announcement, and what does it mean?
"While there are many places where there is a great demand for the vaccine, we do have some providers who are having a hard time filling appointments," Governor Mike DeWine said while visiting a vaccination center in Youngstown on Monday. "If a local health department or hospital is not filling all their slots this week, they may book with anyone 16 and older," DeWine said.
DeWine’s surprise announcement Monday morning came because his office was hearing from health departments in certain areas of the state that they had open appointments they weren’t able to fill this week.
“What we don't want them to do is to be literally sitting there with staff, and people and vaccine, precious vaccine, and not be able to hit those slots," DeWine said.
But the governor's messaging this week has left some confused, including Marla Zwinggi, the co-creator of the "Vaccine Queens" Facebook page, who works to connect locals with vaccination providers and find appointments for those who need them.
"I will say that the messaging lately has been a little foggy," Zwinggi said in an interview Tuesday with News 5.
Where are there unused vaccines?
Reports of unused vaccine doses were largely isolated to a few areas in Ohio, and not in Northeast Ohio, according to DeWine’s Press Secretary Dan Tierney.
He said that the health districts in Champagne, Lawrence, Logan, and Greene counties were having the largest issues with unfilled appointments this week, and those areas may have providers who can vaccinate eligible adults earlier than March 29, which is when vaccinations will be available to any Ohioan 16 and older.
There has been a great demand for the vaccine across Northeast Ohio, Tierney said, with Lake, Geauga, Mahoning, and other Northeast Ohio counties among the top counties in terms of vaccination rates. Most appointments this week in Northeast Ohio have been filled, he said.
"We were told that 16-plus would be eligible starting March 29," Zwinggi said. "However, Gov. DeWine said yesterday 16-plus could book wherever there are extra doses. Where are those extra doses? We don’t have that information, so there has been a lot of confusion."
Can I schedule an appointment for next week, when I become eligible?
With the eligibility for the vaccine expanding to anyone over 16 on Monday, the Ohio Department of Health will make changes to their “Get the Shot” online vaccination portal at that time, Tierney said. Until then, the screening questions for eligibility will remain as they are.
However, Tierney said that some individual vaccine providers are beginning to update their eligibility criteria and scheduling future appointments to those 16 and up this week.
On Monday, March 29, Ohio will enter the next phase of its vaccination program, and anyone over the age of 16 will be eligible to schedule and receive a vaccine at any of the state’s mass vaccination centers, including the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University, and with any individual vaccine provider.
"Our recommendation would be to follow those state guidelines, Zwinggi said. "If you’re 16-plus, book your appointments for March 29 and after. If you can get in somewhere with an overage, go for it. But until we hear some clear messaging from the state, we really need to follow those guidelines."
What are my best chances at getting an appointment when I'm eligible?
"Believe it not, the best way to book a vaccination is by telephone," Zwinggi said. "So even if you are computer savvy and have all the latest gadgets, the good old telephone has proven to be the trick this time around."
She said that even though the Wolstein Center does offer appointments through the state's central website, those appointments go quick, and those who can't get an appointment online could try calling the center directly at 1-866-982-1979 to speak to a scheduler. She also suggested just heading down to the Wolstein Center, utilizing the free parking, and checking with organizers there to see if a vaccine is available.
"The people down there have just been incredible," she said.
If you're looking to book an appointment with a private company, Zwinggi offered this advice:
- The best time to call to book with Giant Eagle, who is offering the Moderna vaccine, is between 8:50 a.m. and 9 a.m.
- Booking with CVS will have the most success around 7 a.m.
- For Rite-Aid, Zwinggi suggests trying around midnight.
For more updates from the Vaccine Queens, check out their Facebook page here.
Visit our Vaccinating Ohio page for the latest updates on Ohio's vaccination program, including links to sign up for a vaccine appointment, a map of nearby vaccination sites, a detailed breakdown of the state's current vaccine phase, and continuing local coverage of COVID-19 vaccines in Northeast Ohio.
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