Mirroring the state rollout, Williams County kicked off its COVID-19 vaccination program Tuesday.
Both the county health department and Community Hospitals and Wellness Centers held individuals vaccine clinics for so-called phase 1B, distributing a very limited supply of vaccine to residents 80 years old and older.
"This is our most vulnerable population," explained county health commissioner Jim Watkins, who said the health department was administering doses at the Bryan Senior Center from its current allotment of about 110 doses to those who had preregistered.
Similarly, CHWC is distributing its 300 dose allotment Tuesday and today, also to those 80 and over who have preregistered, according to Wade Patrick, Vice President & CIO at CHWC.
During his statewide briefing Tuesday, Governor Mike DeWine said that next week, the program will be expanded to include people with severe congenital, developmental or early-onset medical disorders, in addition to a developmental or intellectual disability. He said county developmental disabilities boards will be reaching out to those affected to schedule vaccinations.
The week of Feb. 15, the program will start to include those who may have one of the medical disorders but not have a developmental or intellectual disability. The vaccines are not approved for children so only adults will be eligible to receive it.
DeWine said 96% of state school districts have committed to reopen schools to full in-person instruction by March 1 and participate in the state’s vaccination program. He said that educational service centers will be coordinating with districts, and that either a retail pharmacy or a local health department will perform the vaccinations at private clinics. Those will begin the week of Feb. 1.
Currently there are two vaccines available, from Pfizer and Moderna, and both require two shots each to be effective. DeWine said a third vaccine, from Johnson & Johnson, may receive approval as soon as March and that it would be a single-dose vaccine.
The state’s vaccination program will continue to open up to Ohioans older than 65 over the next several weeks, with those 75 and older becoming eligible on Jan. 25, those 70 and older on Feb. 1, and those 65 and older on Feb. 8.
Both Watkins and Patrick said preregistration is required for future county vaccine clinics.
To register for the health department vaccination clinic, call 866-395-1588. To register for the CHWC clinic, call 419-630-2295, M-F 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and leave a message and CHWC will confirm the call.
Registration hotlines across the state were jammed with calls and crashed earlier in the week, but those issues are slowly being addressed in the county, Watkins said.
"The call center is doing a bit better now, after that initial rush. We knew it was going to be a huge rush," he said. About 20 percent of the county's 38,816 residents are 65 and older.
Watkins said the real issue is the lack of sufficient supply.
"The supply is very limited. We're hoping to get another shipment (today). But there's just not enough product in the pipeline. The problem is that what's available is not what the (federal government) was telling us was there," Watkins said.
The county health department vaccine clinics are being staffed by the health department, county department of aging staff, county emergency medical services and other volunteers.
"It's a community effort," he said.
"It's going very well, people are saying they feel like they've won the lottery," Patrick said of the CHWC vaccine clinic Tuesday.
The county's COVID-19 death toll currently stands at 66, with 2,711 total cases and 142 hospitalizations. Since Dec. 1, 55 county residents have died from COVID.
Watkins though, said is is seeing greater acceptance among the county's population that the virus is real and a greater commitment by residents in taking precautions.
"What we're seeing is there's just a lot higher mask usage over the past few months, and a lot more awareness.
"We know (masks) are beneficial ... they work. We've also seen a number of nonprofits and groups who have cancelled their events, in the interest of being safe, and that's a good sign, too," Watkins said.