COLUMBUS (WCMH) – As new coronavirus cases creep up or plateau in Ohio, vaccinations are going down.
Since peaking on March 31 at more than 105,000, first-dose COVID-19 vaccinations have declined over the past three weeks and bucked a general upward trend that began mid-February. Second-dose vaccinations have declined, too, since peaking on April 8 at nearly 99,000.
In the past 21 days, Ohio has averaged just over 891,000 vaccinations started, which is less than two-thirds of the more than 1.3 million in the last 21 days of March.
Last week’s first-doses administered were Ohio’s fewest since the last week of February. And this Wednesday and Thursday, days that often see their week’s highest number of shots, saw about 30,000 and 41,000 first-dose vaccinations reported, respectively.
Why have vaccinations plummeted in April? Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday singled out people under 50, who have been slower to get shots since 40-49-year-olds were first eligible on March 19 and everyone 16 and older became eligible on March 29.
“I think the age groups are quite interesting because our older Ohioans, those numbers continue to slowly go up, even though they’re already at a fairly high rate,” the governor said at his coronavirus briefing, adding that “one of the keys going forward” is people under 50 getting vaccinated at a higher rate.
At least half of Ohioans in all age groups above 50 have gotten a dose of the vaccine. But for people aged 40-49, it’s just over 40%; for 30-39, it’s just over a third; and for 20-29, it’s less than 1 in 3.
Hunting herd immunity
“What happens with our younger people is really going to determine how fast we can reach this herd immunity,” DeWine said.
The Ohio Department of Health is targeting that demographic in a new ad campaign by arguing more vaccinations means a sooner return to live concerts, sporting events and other pre-pandemic pleasures.
ODH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said Wednesday that unvaccinated younger people can be “spreading (COVID-19) around to the people that (they) care about” even if they have a mild infection.
He also said they are “playing a COVID lottery” for more serious complications, because younger people are more likely to be hospitalized now that new variant strains of the virus are common in Ohio.
“And it all means that if you’re young and unvaccinated, what might not have been much of a concern to you this fall sure ought to be a concern right now,” Vanderhoff said at DeWine’s briefing, “And if you’re counting on herd immunity to cover you, you really can’t count on it yet.”
Depending on a infection’s contagiousness, herd immunity usually kicks in once 50%-90% of a population is vaccinated, according to two professors at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. COVID-19’s herd immunity threshold is still unknown, but they suggest 70% would need to be immune for a return to “a pre-pandemic lifestyle.”
In Ohio, 28% of people are fully vaccinated as of Thursday, and 38% are partially vaccinated. Nationwide, it’s 27% and 41%, respectively, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A poll last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 62% of American adults are already vaccinated or plan to get vaccinated ASAP. Another 17% said they would “wait and see,” 7% would only get vaccinated if required and 13% did not plan to.
April’s slowdown in shots is not because Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was paused from use in the U.S., since J&J only accounted for just 5% of American vaccinations. Furthermore, although the supply of vaccines has slightly dipped in Ohio this month, it is nowhere near the decrease in vaccinations.
Ohio’s vaccine supply has outpaced vaccinations so much in April that some counties have told the state not to send new shipments this week, since they still have doses left over.
“We’re seeing a number of not only health departments but other providers who have told us, ‘Do not send this week, we’re still in business, we’re still putting shots in arms,’” DeWine said.
On top of that, not every person who gets their first dose comes back for their second. A Cleveland Clinic official told WOIO-TV this week that just 60% of recipients at the Wolstein Center mass vaccination clinic are coming back for their second shot, whether because they are afraid of side effects, they feel partial immunity is enough, or another reason.
DeWine noted Wednesday that a 60% return rate is not indicative of the whole state, while Vanderhoff said people too often mistake the first dose’s partial immunity for the full, lasting immunity of two doses.
“(Lasting immunity) is going to be lost when people don’t complete the series,” Vanderhooff said, “So I would really strongly encourage people, if you missed your second dose, it’s not too late. Get back in, make that appointment, get that second dose.”