Any Ohioan who falls under one of the 14 classifications set out by the state can get a COVID vaccine at any vaccine provider starting Monday, February 15, regardless of their age.
Those conditions are:
- Sickle cell anemia
- Down syndrome
- Cystic fibrosis
- Muscular dystrophy
- Cerebral palsy
- Spina bifida
- People born with severe heart defects, requiring regular specialized medical care
- People with severe type-1 diabetes, who have been hospitalized for this in the past year
- Phenylketonuria (PKU), Tay-Sachs, and other rare, inherited metabolic disorders
- Epilepsy with continuing seizures; hydrocephaly; microcephaly, and other severe neurological disorders
- Turner syndrome, fragile X syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, and other severe genetic disorders
- People with severe asthma, who have been hospitalized for this in the past year
- Alpha and beta thalassemia
- Solid organ transplant candidates and recipients
Gov. Mike DeWine says medical experts estimate there are about 200,000 people in Ohio under the age of 65 who fall into those categories. Those conditions put those people at a high risk for bad outcomes if they were to get COVID.
Once the vaccine supply becomes available to that population, DeWine says the state will rely on the honesty of Ohioans who say they have one of the conditions that qualify for vaccination on February 15.
“Is it on a trust basis? Yeah, I trust Ohioans,” said DeWine. “Will there be some abuses? Sure, there’s going to to be some abuses. But to erect a bunch of barriers because a few might abuse it did not seem to be the logical thing to do and did not seem to me to be the right thing to do.”
DeWine says requiring a doctor’s note or medical paperwork would have disadvantaged people who are already struggling.
In addition, many of the people who have one of the stated conditions likely already has an extensive relationship with a local hospital network. DeWine encouraged hospital systems to start reaching out to their qualifying patients, if they haven’t been already, to schedule those vaccinations.
Ohio Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff says the state will be monitoring the vaccination rates for the high-risk group that becomes eligible for vaccines on February 15.
“We’re going to be doing that to ensure that there is uptake and that there is not abuse of the category,” said Vanderhoff. “We’ll do that through our disease reporting system.”
It’s the next step for people like Colleen Gerber, who has had two kidney transplants and has taken COVID protocols very seriously.
“The medication I take everyday intentionally makes [my] immune system lower,” said Gerber, explaining why being a transplant recipient makes her high-risk for COVID.
The medication makes sure that her body doesn’t reject her kidney.
It’s meant that she’s barely seen family and friends since the pandemic began and has stayed out of most public places.
Waiting for information about how and where she can get her vaccine shot is familiar.
“It’s sort of like waiting for an organ, you know, for that call when you’re on that waiting list,” said Gerber.
Governor DeWine encouraged hosptial systems to start reaching out to patients they know have conditions that would make them eligible for the vaccine on February 15. University Hospitals posted this link for people to sign up, but UH Cleveland Medical Center Chief Operating Officer Dr. Robyn Strosaker says that list can have tens of thousands of people on it.
"There's a lot of air that comes out of that list, and that's great," said Dr. Strosaker.
She says by the time UH starts contacting patients to set up their vaccine shots, many of them already have appointments elsewhere because they've put themselves on multiple lists. It means lists are long, but people can move through them quickly depending on the amount of vaccine that is available every week.
She doesn't mind the state relying on the honor system for the vaccines because verification could be really hard and the alternative isn't better.
"We could be missing out on the opportunity to be vaccinating people who truly are vulnerable and at-risk and we didn't want to do that either," said Dr. Strosaker.
The Cleveland Clinic and MetroHealth hospital systems both tell News 5 they are also ready to start vaccinating those Ohioans on February 15. Discount Drug Mart says it is also ready to vaccinate that population in their pharmacy locations.
Vaccinations for people with Developmental Disabilities
The additional group becoming eligible on February 15 comes after Ohio has already been vaccinating many people with those conditions and developmental disabilities.
Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities Superintendent and CEO Kelly Petty says a little more than 5,000 people have developmental disabilities. Many of those people live in congregate care facilities and were vaccinated early in the state's roll out.
"I'm happy to say that the vast majority of individuals in Group 1A have now had the opportunity to be vaccinated," said Petty.
The Board held community clinics and vaccinated about 800 people over a weekend. They have another clinic Saturday for anyone who qualifies and still hasn't gotten a vaccine.
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