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DeWine channels vaccines to colleges, workplaces to speed up rollout

Jake Zuckerman, Ohio Capital Journal |

Ohio will surge doses into college campuses and private workplaces as an effort to speed up the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday.

Starting next week, the goal is to provide mostly Johnson & Johnson vaccines to any Ohio college student who wants one, DeWine said. Unlike the two other available vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, Johnson & Johnson’s only requires one dose and standard refrigeration.

The other two vaccines require ultracold storage and a two-dose series, posing storage, transportation and scheduling difficulties.

Additionally, DeWine said vaccine providers can take up to 25% of their weekly dosage allocation to vaccinate their own employees or those of other businesses or labor unions starting April 12. Ohioans aged 16 and up are currently eligible for vaccination.

With both new practices, DeWine said the goal is to preempt anticipated “slack” in demand for the vaccines and redirect them to easier-to-reach groups.

College kids, DeWine said, are more likely to take the vaccine if it’s provided on campus. Also, it’s easier to vaccinate them when they’re all together on a campus.

“While fewer young people get sick from covid, the evidence clearly shows that they are significant carriers,” he said. “And they are significant carriers because of their interaction with other people. That age group interacts more. More socialization, more movement, more contacts.”

The shift comes at a hazy crossroads. About 3.48 million Ohioans have received at least one vaccine dose since Dec. 14. State data shows the weekly total of people starting the vaccination process has steadily grown since then as well.

However, new infections have remained flat around 1,600 cases per day statewide and are showing signs of an uptick. The number of people actively hospitalized with COVID-19 has trended upward as well, according to COVID-19 tracking by Chris Godby, a data analyst.

At its Dec. 15 peak, 5,308 Ohioans were hospitalized with COVID-19. That figure plunged to 839 by March 21 but has since risen to 1,039, state data shows.

The U.S. is experiencing a sharper infection spike than Ohio.

Three “variants of concern,” some of which are believed to be more transmissible or possibly elusive of protection from available vaccines, have been detected around the state, according to CDC data.

The ‘slack’ DeWine referred to reflects vaccine hesitancy, detected in recent public polling, from certain cohorts.

Officials are looking to persuade hesitant Americans — especially Republican men and Black men — to take the vaccine.

Conservatives in the state General Assembly have stoked fears of a looming vaccine mandate or “vaccine passport” system for businesses to screen out unvaccinated people.

DeWine, asked about the proposal, said there’s neither a need for nor a plan to implement a mandate — the facts about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy will win out.

“We have no plan to require a vaccine passport to do things,” he said.

This article first appeared at the Ohio Capital Journal.

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