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Vaccination plans moving ahead

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The Belmont County Health Department is calling local senior citizens to collect information as it prepares to offer them the coronavirus vaccine.

With department staff already stretched thin tracing contacts of people who have been infected, it is also getting some help from Belmont College.

Deputy Health Commissioner Robert Sproul told county commissioners on Wednesday that the Phase 1B vaccine rollout for seniors, people with other health concerns and school employees had to be delayed due to high demand and comparatively few doses available.

Sproul said his office was overwhelmed with requests from area seniors wanting vaccinations.

While many of them called and left their names and phone numbers, they did not include their birthdates, leaving his staff in the dark about whether they qualified in the first group of people 80 and older.

“So we have Belmont College nursing students helping us. They’re … reaching out to these people and getting their birthdates. … The problem is, people aren’t believing it and they’re calling our office to make sure this is legit. … Every step we take to alleviate a problem seems to create another one.”

“If you’re on a list, we’re reaching back out to you. It’s us. But we’re not asking for Social Security numbers, we’re not asking for anything else, just your birthdate.”

The health department will soon have a shot registration page on its website at belmontcountyhealth.com.

Sproul is also looking into providing transportation to vaccination sites for people 80 and older who may not be able to get there on their own.

“There’s a lot of moving parts with this right now,” Sproul said. “We’re moving forward. We’re always going to keep moving forward.”

Meanwhile, Belmont County has begun to receive COVID-19 vaccines for a second round of doses to health care workers. Sproul expects to release a plan today for how the next round of vaccinations will be scheduled.

Sproul’s office has received a large batch of vaccinations to be used as the second dose for those in Group 1A who were vaccinated 28 days ago. The process requires a second dose.

“We’re moving into 1B, 1A is still this week. We did receive about 300 doses this week,” he said.

Sproul said all vaccines administered in this area will be the Moderna version, which does not require extreme cold storage that Belmont County does not have access to.

Sproul and the Belmont County Emergency Management Agency will make a statement today as Ohio begins vaccinating seniors in stages based on age starting next week, beginning with those 80 and older.

The age range for eligible recipients will expand by five years each week, with those 75 and older eligible Jan. 25, followed by people 70 and older. It is hoped people 65 and older can receive vaccines by Feb. 8.

Ohioans with severe congenital, developmental or early-onset medical disorders will be eligible for vaccination Jan. 25. Adult school staff should be eligible in February.

“(Gov. Mike DeWine is) wanting us to do a press release where we name all the providers of the vaccine we’ll be getting next week,” Sproul said.

He also updated commissioners on the results of Saturday’s coronavirus testing by the Ohio National Guard at Ohio University Eastern.

“We had our testing at OUE on Saturday, the free testing. We ended up with 89 total people. … Eighty-nine total tests performed. Seventeen came back positive and one inconclusive, so almost 20 percent positivity rate.”

Sproul reiterated DeWine’s announcement that it is very unlikely there will be sufficient vaccines initially, even for everyone in the first group.

“We’re still limited — a scarce supply of vaccines coming in,” Sproul said.

There has also been a change in federal policy about distributing vaccines. Instead of holding one dose back for the second inoculation for every dose issued, the stored vaccines will be made available.

“They’re going to open that up and try to get us more vaccines. No idea what the numbers are, but that’s what is coming down the pipe,” Sproul said.

“It’s statewide,” Sproul said in answer to a question from Commissioner J.P. Dutton. “It’s an issue of everybody having not enough vaccines. We’re moving down to the next level, we’re narrowing it down to 80 and above, that’s all we can give the vaccine to.”

In answer to another question from Dutton, Sproul said there is no concern that mutations in the virus might make the vaccine ineffective.

Sproul reported Belmont County has had 4,336 total cases since the onset of the pandemic. There are currently 746 people in isolation at home with active cases and 3,471 people have recovered. There are 36 people hospitalized, and 83 people have died after being infected. The latest two deaths were reported Wednesday. They were men in their 90s and 50s.

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