COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The COVID-19 vaccine has been in Ohio for one full year. Many of the state’s health experts agreed, the shot is one of the best tools to end the pandemic, and also expressed frustration with the lagging vaccination rate.

“There was pre-COVID and then there’s COVID time. COVID time is a really crazy – both compressed and prolonged period,” said Dr. Susan Koletar, the director of the Ohio State University’s Infectious Disease Division.

She recalled the excitement and optimism when Ohio kicked off an ambitious vaccine distribution plan, starting with frontline healthcare workers and slowly scaling up the number of eligible people.

“It was 9:17 A.M. on December 14th that the vaccine arrived here on campus,” she said, checking the timestamp on a photo she took of a delivery person unloading the first boxes, days after the Pfizer vaccine received emergency use authorization.

In the early months of vaccine distribution, it was in high demand. Appointments were booked up quickly, social media groups were formed to help find and secure time slots for the shot. As eligibility expanded, however, demand dropped.

“If you would have asked me a year ago, I definitely would’ve hoped that not only more of Franklin County, but more of Ohio and more of the nation would have been vaccinated,” said Dr. Mysheika Roberts, the Columbus Public Health Commissioner.

According to the Ohio Department of Health vaccine dashboard, 58.73 percent of the state has started the vaccination process.

“We always wanted to get that above 70, closer to 80 percent. That’s what I always said and I still believe,” Dr. Roberts said, referring to the vaccination rate some estimate would be required for herd immunity. “I just wish more of our neighbors would roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated, not only to protect themselves but also those around them.”

Despite lagging vaccination rates, Dr. Roberts said the vaccine has been a successful tool in lowering the death and hospitalization rate from the virus. The vast majority of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated and reported breakthrough cases have often been associated with mild symptoms.

The vaccine’s one-year anniversary comes as Ohio is seeing surging case numbers and emerging strains of the virus.

“We have the Delta variant, which we know is contagious and causes serious disease. And now we have Omicron, which we know is very contagious,” said Dr. Roberts.

The Omicron variant was identified by researchers in an OSU laboratory over the weekend. Scientists expected the strain to appear in the state and continue to study its unique mutations. Doctors don’t believe the emergence of omicron should be cause for alarm and many are doubling down on calls to follow many of the safety measures that have been in place for more than a year.

“Now knowing that it is here in Ohio, it just verifies that we all need to roll up our sleeves, get vaccinated and get boosters,” said Dr. Roberts.

Dr. Koletar added, “Vaccines are a major player, testing is a major player, and then being sensible.”

Both doctors said they were cautiously optimistic that the pandemic will eventually become endemic: always present and evolving with fluctuating case numbers.

Dr. Roberts estimated February could be the earliest Columbus sees a positivity and case rate low enough for her to recommend the city rescind its mask order.

“I just hope we can get more people vaccinated sooner so we can start to see an end to this,” she said.