Just days after the second phase of the coronavirus vaccine rollout in Northeast Ohio, officials from local health boards, hospitals and pharmacies coordinating the effort expressed concern about the possibility of demand being higher than the limited supply.
Phase 1B began on Monday with Ohioans ages 80 and older. There are no walk-up clinics, officials cautioned. All vaccines locally and statewide are being done by appointment only.
On Tuesday, the vaccine was well received when people waiting their turn applauded as University Hospitals of Cleveland began inoculating members of the general public at its Management Services Center in Shaker Heights.
“It’s been a fun day,” UH Chief Operating Officer Dr. Robyn Strosaker said of the first day of vaccinations for non-employees. “The people are just so excited. There are cheers and clapping and this is what we’re here for.”
In mid-December, Phase 1A began in Ohio, offering vaccines to healthcare workers, residents and staff of nursing homes, people with developmental disabilities who live in group homes, and EMS workers. In the coming weeks, people with severe congenital and developmental disabilities, employees of kindergarten through 12th grade schools and anyone age 65 and over will be eligible for the vaccine.
Others eligible for the vaccine starting this week include individuals living in group homes, staff members of group homes, EMTs and healthcare providers to patients with COVID-19.
The Ohio Department of Health’s Phase 1B plan adds residents by age group with those 75 and older beginning on Jan. 25, residents 70 and older on Feb. 1 and 65 and older on Feb. 8.
“When a new age range opens, that does not mean vaccinations will be complete for the previous age range,” Gov. Mike DeWine said last week. “Vaccinating Ohioans in Phase 1B will take a number of weeks given the limited doses available.”
Gov. DeWine said the plan was age based because statistics show that older people are more vulnerable to the deadly virus. As of early this week, Ohio had 836,000 COVID-19 cases with 10,336 deaths. Nationwide there have been 24.2 million cases and 400,000 deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although the state’s guidelines allowed Phase 1B to begin this week, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health will only vaccinate members of Phase 1A until it is completed. Kevin Brennan, spokesman for the board of health, said that he does not have an estimated date yet for when Phase 1A would be complete due to the unsteady supply of vaccine. The board of health has a link on their website, www.ccbh.net/vax, to sign up to be notified when appointments are available for Phases 1A and 1B.
“We have tens of thousands on that [Phase 1A] list,” Mr. Brennan said on Tuesday. “We hope to have a more steady supply soon.”
Geauga Public Health changed the method of sign-up due to the overwhelming response from residents. Initially, the health department posted a survey on its website encouraging people to share their name, age and contact information so they could be contacted by department officials about vaccine eligibility and timing.
“We stopped using the survey, frankly, because it was a victim of its own success,” said Geauga Health Commissioner Thomas Quade. “We generated a contact list of more than 14,000 people in just a few weeks and the intent of the tool was to generate a list of people to whom we could reach out when they were eligible to receive the vaccine.”
The department shut down the survey because the response was too large for employees to handle, Mr. Quade said. He explained that Geauga Public Health will still use the existing list to email or call people when they are eligible.
“They did not miss anything by signing up, and those who were unable to sign up before we closed the survey will still be able to call for appointments, but they will need to be a little more active than passive in doing so,” he said.
The Cleveland Clinic is scheduling people for vaccine appointments through its MyChart system.
Dr. Strosaker said that the UH management services center in Shaker Heights was chosen for vaccinations because of its size and ample parking. There are 20 vaccination stations set up and when operating at maximum capacity, 2,000 people can be vaccinated per day. Although they are running a large operation, she said, UH has taken the necessary safety precautions.
People will remain 6 feet apart when they come for their vaccine. Patients must also sit for 15 minutes following their vaccination to ensure that they do not have an allergic reaction. On Tuesday, Dr. Strosaker said that everyone did well with the vaccine.
She mentioned two challenges that her team at UH has worked to overcome to plan a successful vaccine clinic. First, she said that they do not find out how much supply of the vaccine they will receive until five to seven days before it arrives, causing a challenge with scheduling appointments. Mr. Quade mentioned the same challenge in Geauga.
Members of the public are eager to come, so Dr. Strosaker said that the demand is keeping up with the supply so far.
Second, the vaccination effort takes a lot of manpower, she said. Many employees of UH are volunteering their time to help however they can, including physicians, senior leaders and information technology workers.
“We are working very hard to vaccinate,” Dr. Strosaker said. “We want to use our supply within seven days of receiving it.”
She advised the public that anyone age 65 and over can pre-register for their vaccine now. They can visit www.uhhospitals.org/vaccine for more information.
As the Cuyahoga board of health works through the thousands of people still eligible in Phase 1A, Mr. Brennan said that they have set up vaccine clinics throughout the county. There is a clinic scheduled for Sunday at the Beachwood Fire Department and one on Jan. 27 at the county fairgrounds in Middleburg Heights. The clinics are not scheduled too far in advance, he said, because of the limited vaccine supply. The facility at the fairgrounds is a large garage so that it is set up in a drive-thru fashion. People can get out of their car to get the vaccine but it is not necessary.
Mr. Brennan explained that there is a two-step process. People need to sign up for the notification list so the county board of health will call and email them with a registration link when clinics open up. After they click on the link to register, they will receive a second email with the day and time of their appointment. Mr. Brennan said that it is important to bring the registration form with you to the appointment.
Dr. Strosaker said that patients must bring their ID to vaccine appointments with UH.
Although Mr. Quade of Geauga Public Health expects a larger number of doses than in past weeks, it still will not meet the public demand.
“We have the current plans, people, places and partners to administer more than 700 each week,” said Mr. Quade. “We have been receiving 100 to 200 doses each week.”
All available doses are expected to be scheduled early in the day on Tuesdays, and once doses are all scheduled, there will be a message on the phone line that will inform people and encourage them to try calling in again on the following Tuesday, he said. Other providers, including Giant Eagle, Discount Drug Mart in Chester and Genoa Healthcare in Chardon, will also offer vaccines.
There is a list of sites offering vaccines for Phase 1B in Cuyahoga County on the board of health’s website, www.ccbh.net. On Tuesday, Giant Eagle announced plans to offer vaccines for Phase 1B. An online vaccine appointment scheduling tool was launched on Wednesday on the website, www.gianteagle.com/covid. Giant Eagle pharmacies will have vaccine appointments available Jan. 21 through the weekend and plan to add more as more doses are received. There are Giant Eagle pharmacies in Bainbridge, Solon, Beachwood and Lyndhurst.