Seniors frustrated by vaccine prioritization for non-frontline healthcare workers

Local News

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH)– Since the state’s rollout began a little over a month ago, seniors have been anxiously waiting for their turn to get the vaccine.

Some of those seniors though are wondering why non-frontline healthcare workers are still ahead of them in line.

“I don’t know what’s more, eagerness or anxiety,” admits MaryBeth Burkley, a 66-year-old Grandview resident.

“You hear, ‘Oh, we’re going to get these vaccines so soon,’ and then we’re hearing from our doctors it’s going to be Spring. It’s very frustrating,” adds Burley’s long-time friend Katie Knaup.

For Knaup, and many like her, those frustrations are growing.

“When you hear of people who work at a hospital that are working remotely, that are getting the vaccine before the rest of us, that seems a bit unfair,” Knaup says.

Before retiring from Ohio state’s Wexner Medical Center, for 30 years MaryBeth Burkley was working at a hospital.

Even she was disappointed when she found out those not involved with patient care were getting vaccinated ahead of high-risk individuals like herself.

“While people that are supposed to be so much more vulnerable are still waiting, it was hard to hear that people that really are not in the front line are getting it ahead of us,” Burkley adds.

But according to spokespeople with Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center and OhioHealth, the health of all staff is the lifeline to their missions.

“People that fix our clinical equipment. They are not caring for patients directly, but if they aren’t there and healthy to be able to keep our equipment maintained and in working order, how are we going to care for patients that are ill in the hospital?” asks Dr. Andrew Thomas from the Wexner Medical Center.

According to Thomas, Ohio State’s vaccination staff vaccination process was a tiered approach laid out for them by the state.

They will have vaccinated nearly 18,000 staff once they complete injections for those already registered.

OhioHealth has vaccinated 20,000.

“If those folks aren’t available to do their job, we can’t function as an organization that provides care to tens of thousands of people per week,” says Dr. Thomas.

Dr. Thomas says a number of staff members have been assigned to assist with other roles during the pandemic, increasing patient contact and exposure to the virus.

“They come in and staff our entrance visitor screening stations, they might work at our COVID-testing site as a runner, or they may be working today over the Schottenstein Center, working to support our mission,” Dr. Thomas explains. “I just think it’s a little difficult for an external observer to point to one person and say, ‘Why did they get vaccinated?’ Because there’s a myriad of reasons.”

But both healthcare systems say for the time being, any staff members not already registered to receive the vaccine, will not be eligible.

They are committed to expanding the rollout to their patient populations and the community.

“We all agree that we need to move toward vaccinating our general public, and the state has put priorities in place where we’re focusing on just the elderly this week, and then we’ll expand to certain groups of disabled patients that are at risk of severe disease or death,” adds Dr. Thomas.

So far Ohio State has vaccinated, or will vaccinate, roughly 7,000 members of the Group 1B population. OhioHealth, by the end of last week, had completed vaccinations for 5,000 members of the same group.

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