Union County Health Commissioner Jason Orcena said the majority of local individuals in the first priority group – or Tier 1A – have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Now, the health department is preparing to vaccinate the next group, listed in the graphic above. Gov. DeWine said Tuesday that approximately 1 million Ohioans are in Tier 1A compared to more than 2 million in Tier 1B, although not all individuals will choose to receive the vaccine. (Graphic submitted)
No start date set for Tier 1B vaccinations, but will be administered by appointment
As they move through the first priority group to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Union County officials said distribution is going smoothly and effectively.
“We’re not sitting on vaccines,” said Union County Health Commissioner Jason Orcena. “We are pushing them out as quickly as we can.”
As of Wednesday, Orcena said the Union County Health Department has administered 300 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. He said they expect to vaccinate 100 more this week.
He said the health department has used every single dose that they have received.
“We do not waste vaccine,” he emphasized.
He said the order of those who are being vaccinated is determined by guidance from Gov. Mike DeWine.
The first group of individuals to be vaccinated – or “Tier 1A” – includes EMS responders, healthcare workers directly involved in the care of COVID-19 patients and residents and staff at nursing homes, assisted living facilities or other congregate care settings.
“In Union County, the majority of (those in Tier) 1A have been vaccinated or are on their way to being vaccinated,” Orcena said, adding that only those who want to receive the vaccine have gotten it.
Orcena noted that those in nursing homes or assisted living facilities are being vaccinated through a federal partnership with pharmacies, rather than local health departments. Memorial Health is also receiving shipments of the vaccine for its own employees.
He said individuals in this tier were chosen as the first to receive the vaccine because they are either most at risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19 or are caring for the individuals who are sick.
Public Information Officer Jennifer Thrush said about 90% of those who were vaccinated at the first clinic, on Dec. 23, were EMS responders. In the most recent clinic, on Dec. 28, about 80% of those inoculated were individuals living in congregate care settings, like homes for those with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities or substance use disorders.
Moving forward, Orcena said the “burden of who needs the vaccine shifts.”
He said the health department must adjust based on government guidance, but already has plans for mass vaccinations through March.
UCHD is currently prepping to begin vaccinations for those in Tier 1B, although Orcena said there is not yet a concrete date to start.
The Tier 1B group focuses on those who are 65 and older, those of any age with severe medical conditions and K-12 teachers and staff.
Orcena said individuals who are 65 and older “represent the greatest proportion of severe illness due to COVID and deaths.” DeWine said Tuesday they make up more than 87% of Ohioans who have died from the virus.
The health commissioner said those in schools also face a “separate set of risks” for contracting COVID-19 because of its congregate nature.
He said the ultimate goal of vaccinating teachers and staff is to get students who feel safe being in buildings back to school.
This population is a priority, Orcena said, because schools help to meet the physical, social and emotional needs of youth.
While UCHD is already gearing up, he said it will be a “state-level decision” as to when to begin vaccinations for the second priority group.
DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health are currently soliciting data from local health departments regarding how far they have progressed through Tier 1A, Orcena said. Based on this feedback, there will be a “uniform decision” to start Tier 1B rather than a county-by-county choice.
Orcena said people in Tier 1B could start to receive vaccines “as early as a couple weeks” from now, but “we don’t have a good estimate” of the actual date.
He said vaccines will be provided to older adults and school staff by drive-thru appointment at the Union County Fairgrounds, similarly to those in Tier 1A.
Once Tier 1B vaccinations can begin, Orcena said the health department will send emails asking interested individuals who meet the eligibility requirements to pre-register and schedule an appointment online. He said they will also be required to complete a short survey.
Thrush noted that the health department is working with “community partners” to help those without internet access register for an appointment.
She encouraged residents to read the Journal-Tribune and stay connected with their “support networks,” such as senior services or clubs, to stay updated on vaccine availability and registration information.
Appointments will be scheduled on a first-come, first-serve basis depending on how many shots are available that week.
Orcena said the Ohio Department of Health generally informs UCHD on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday how many vaccines they will receive later that week.
Supply is extremely limited, he said, as UCHD’s first shipment contained 200 doses and the next two contained 100 doses.
“We tell the state every week, ‘We can do more,” Orcena said.
He said the drive-thru clinics have gone according to plan, without any logistical issues. Instead, “supply is the biggest hold-up.”
Orcena said the health department will keep hosting vaccine clinics every week as it continues to become more widely available.
Thrush noted that the clinics have gone well largely because of the collaboration between UCHD staff and local Medical Reserve Corps volunteers. Residents with a medical license who are interested in helping administer COVID-19 vaccines as part of the MRC should email UCMRC@uchd.net.
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