COLUMBUS, Ohio — Editor's note: Video at the top of this story was originally published on March 1, 2021.
Ohio has expanded the number of people who are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as Gov. Mike DeWine announced the beginning of Phase 1C and the official start of Phase 2. The new 1C and Phase 2 groups, which will be eligible starting Thursday, March 4, include those who are ages 60 and older, pregnant women, type 1 diabetics, ALS patients and bone marrow transplant recipients. Also included are law enforcement / corrections officers along with people who work in child care and funeral services.
But one group that was not included in the next phase of Ohio's COVID-19 vaccination strategy was grocery store employees, which the CDC has listed as "frontline essential workers" under their vaccination rollout recommendations. The CDC's grouping puts grocery store workers within the same classification as school employees, who have been eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in Ohio since Feb. 1.
During his COVID-19 press conference Monday afternoon, Gov. DeWine was asked why vaccine eligibility remains closed to certain groups like grocery store employees, restaurant workers or those with cancer or kidney disease.
"We believe that age is still the best indicator," Gov. DeWine replied when explaining the state's decisions. "We’ve made some exceptions when we thought there was a compelling case that an individual was at very significant risk, and we made exceptions for those."
He then turned the conversation over to Ohio Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff for more explanation behind the vaccination eligibility decision-making process.
“Our effort is to do the most good for the most people with the limited resources available," Dr. Vanderhoff said. "Age is really our best guide to identifying people in Ohio who are at risk for dying from COVID-19. There really is no measure, no way of identifying one’s risk of severe illness or death that’s better than age. Many of the medical conditions that aren’t currently on our list of medical conditions are ones that are much more common as we get older. While it is not possible to account for every person who might have some of those other medical conditions when we are using an aged-based cutoff, we know that we are accounting for most of those people in many circumstances. Very simply put, age really does allow us to best capture risk as evidenced by the fact, and the governor shared this before, at 65 plus we were accounting for 87 percent of the risk of death. When we get down, as we’re approaching age 50, we’ll be at around 97 or 98 percent accounting for the risk of death.”
Watch Gov. DeWine's full press conference from March 1, 2021, in the player below:
Along with grocery story workers, the CDC also classifies the following groups as "frontline essential workers" when it comes to getting vaccinated: Food / agricultural workers, United States Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers and public transit. Ohio has not yet opened vaccinations to these occupations either.
Earlier in the press conference, Gov. DeWine was asked what might be the state's next threshold in possibly expanding vaccination eligibility to other occupations. DeWine held firm on the strategy that "age is going to continue to be our dominant indicator."
"We’re balancing these things and trying to assess where the risk is," Gov. DeWine said. "We’re trying to make sure we understand, the best we can, where the risk is. As you saw what we did today, we lowered the age down to 60 and at the same time we put several groups in there. It’s a balance. What we intend to do after 60 is to go to 55. After 55 we intend to go to 50. Whether we add additional occupations, we have not, frankly, decided. But the age will continue to be the key indicator. We’re going to take it down as soon as we can to 55 and then to 50. We set on 65 for close to a month, and we think that was about the right period of time. I certainly do not anticipate that we’re going to be at 60 for a month, but we’re going to see what the uptick is [in number of vaccinations] along with the other groups that we just added.”