Portage health official: Most COVID-19 vaccines to be reserved for teachers, school staff

Diane Smith
Record-Courier

Most doses of Ohio's COVID-19 vaccine are being reserved for teachers and school staff, which means limited availability of the vaccine for area seniors.

Portage County health officials gave an update on the vaccine efforts Thursday. Health Commissioner Joseph Dioio said seniors 70 and older are being vaccinated this week, and those 65 and older will be eligible next week. However, supplies are extremely limited, with as few as 100 doses available in a given week. 

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Meanwhile, school employees in Ohio were split among four groups based on where they work, with different counties vaccinated each week. Portage County teachers, as well as staff who interact with students, are due to be vaccinated the week of Feb. 15. Gov. Mike DeWine, he said, wants all school workers to get their first dose of the vaccine by March 1. 

Mallory Bielski, Kent State nursing student, administers a vaccination dose.

"The state of Ohio is pooling vaccines for the schools," he said. "That's why we're receiving such low doses for the 1B rollout."

Meanwhile, people in Phase 1A who previously received their first dose of the vaccine, a group that includes health care workers, first responders and seniors in nursing homes, are now getting their second dose. Diorio said he has noticed that the number of second doses the county is receiving is equal to the number of people who got their first dose, so people can be assured that they will get their second dose.

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Diorio said schools chose their vaccine provider through their Educational Service Center. The county health district will be vaccinating employees of 11 schools or school districts the week of Feb. 15. The group includes about 1,200 people, including the Kent, Southeast, Windham, James A. Garfield and Rootstown districts, Maplewood Career Center, Bio-Med Science Academy, Happy Day School, St. Joseph School, St. Patrick School, and Bethel Baptist Christian Academy.

Jane Moser, Portage County Health Department MRC volunteer RN, administers a vaccination dose to Trey Brock, from the Windham Fire Department. While beginning work on the Phase 1B public vaccination process, the health department also is administering second doses to first responders.

The other schools in Portage County have arrangements with other providers, such as pharmacies or Akron Children's Hospital Medical Center.

Once the rollout of the vaccine to school employees is complete, Diorio said the district hopes to receive enough vaccine to administer to thousands of seniors still waiting.

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Diorio said his staff has been "inundated" with calls since the beginning of the pandemic, with people asking about the vaccine starting around Christmas. More than 12,000 people are on a list, he said. 

"Eventually, we're going to have enough vaccine for everyone," he said.