PORTSMOUTH — Since the COVID-19 vaccines became available, local health departments said they have been long prepared to distribute doses to Scioto County residents.
What now presents a considerable challenge to that effort Portsmouth City Health Commissioner Chris Smith says is low demand with vaccines available to all Ohioans above the age of 16.
Over the past month, Smith said a shift from high demand, low supply to low demand, high supply has transpired.
“When we went to do our big clinic for the week, right after Shawnee, it just dried up and didn’t have the demand at all,” he said Friday that first SSU clinic taking place April 1 where more than 400 received the Pfizer vaccine for the first time.
The issue earlier this year came down to a lack of supply, where shortfalls in the expected numbers halted the county’s progress which originally led Ohio in terms of those started on the vaccine protocol.
“Our vaccination schedule is completely dependent upon how much vaccine we receive each week,” Scioto County Health Commissioner Dr. Jerod Walker is quoted in a Jan. 11 article. “Currently, we are only receiving about 20% of the doses that we had anticipated. When our shipments of doses increase, we will be able to complete Phase 1a and move into Phase 1b, which includes older individuals.”
At that time, both health departments were receiving about 100 doses per week. Now that number has grown to 600 each, having the ability to host mass vaccine events such as two at Shawnee State University this month.
Smith said the timing of the increased supply was not ideal, but a move to supply by a numbered list of demand could be coming soon thus eliminating that issue.
“I think very basically that we hit everyone that wanted it,” he said, the rollout by two health departments and hospitals quickening that pace. “We still have the people that are waiting to see how others do, so they are just now starting to trickle in.”
While Scioto County leads surrounding Pike, Adams and Lawrence counties, it lags the state averages in those started and completed with the COVID-19 vaccinations. According to the Ohio Department of Health vaccine dashboard, nearly 24,000 residents or 31.7% have received at least one dose and 28.4% are considered fully immunized locally as of Monday.
Statewide, more than 40% have started the process as Ohio approaches 5 million inoculated. Leading the way are more densely-populated counties such as Cuyahoga, Delaware, and Hamilton while more rural counties throughout southeastern Ohio typically fall behind.
The difference in rural versus urban vaccine acceptance Smith says may come down to the political differences exhibited by these areas. According to a Quinnipiac University April survey, 45% of Republicans do not plan on taking a COVID-19 vaccine while 91% of Democrats said they have already received or plan to take the vaccine.
The seven counties President Joe Biden won in Ohio, a state he lost to former President Donald Trump, are all at or above the state vaccinated average. Coincidentally in Holmes County, where Trump received more than 83% of the vote, only 13.3% have received a vaccine.
To reach a potential goal of 80% vaccinated, not an exact portion or one very likely to happen locally Smith said, an incentivized approach could at least improve the quest’s likelihood. Such was the case in West Virginia, where Gov. Jim Justice announced last week that residents ages 16 to 35 that have received a vaccine are eligible for a $100 savings bond.
“Our kids today probably don’t really realize just how important they are in shutting this thing down,” Justice said, the state using its CARES Act funds to cover the expense. “I’m trying to come up with a way that’s truly going to motivate them – and us – to get over the hump.”
In Scioto County, Smith said discussed ideas among staff are not cash pay-outs but ones he believes will potentially turn the tide in vaccine acceptance. Identifying high traffic areas and use of the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine are among PCHD’s priorities.
“At this point, we are going to have to get creative,” he said.
SCHD will hold a Thursday J&J clinic at the courthouse between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. for those 18 and older.
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3101 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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