City Council Health and Human Services Committee seeks information about the status of City of Cleveland’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution
by Bruce Checefsky
Plain Press, March 2021 The City of Cleveland COVID-19 vaccine program has been anything but easy. A shortage of vaccine supplies on the federal level has hampered the distribution process coupled with miscommunication on the state level on how and when local governments should administer the vaccine, and a largely silent response from Mayor Jackson to the pandemic and vaccine program in general has led to anxiety, stress, and anger among many local residents.
The Department of Public Health website, one of only a few sources of information within city government, provides an overview of vaccine rollouts and a reminder the supply is limited. Residents should expect delays in getting vaccinated even if you are in the category of people eligible for the vaccination.
“Safe, effective vaccines for COVID-19 are here. Over the next few weeks, supply will be limited. We are working to distribute them as efficiently and equitably as possible. When it is your turn in line, we will alert you. We appreciate your patience and understanding during these times,” according to https://www.clevelandhealth.news/.
In response to the lack of communication between City Hall and Cleveland residents, and to encourage collaborative efforts among the local hospital networks, Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, encouraged public questions and comments at committee meetings. Members of the Health and Human Service Committee include Kevin Conwell; Anthony T. Hairston; Kenneth L. Johnson; Jasmin Santana; and Jenny Spencer. Vice Chair for the committee is Basheer S. Jones.
The meetings are being conducted electronically with public access on YouTube and Cleveland’s Channel 20. Scheduled meetings generally take place Monday mornings.
“We know it’s a top priority for our community and neighborhoods. We are doing our part to ensure people get the accurate information,” McCormack said to open the meeting on February 1.
Director of Public Health Brian Kimball provided a brief update on the city’s vaccination efforts. Representatives from area hospital networks were asked to provide information on how they are administering the vaccine, the challenges they are facing, and to provide help with identifying how the city and hospitals can work together. Hospital partners from Cleveland and Northeastern Ohio were invited to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine rollout within their systems and the community.
Director Kimball discussed first and second dose pods for Phase 1A individuals and vaccine pods for the 1B population. Vaccine pods are mobile stations where the vaccine is administered and will be located throughout the city on alternating weeks. 240 doses were administered with a total of 359 doses administered the last week of January. Congregate living sites where people have mobility challenges were targeted during the early stages of the program and continue today. City of Cleveland EMS responders, paramedics, and health care workers have received both doses.
The Department of Public Health is working closely with State of Ohio, Developmental Disability Board, Mental Health Service community, as well as with University Hospital and Cleveland Clinic to create the infrastructure necessary to reach those particular populations, according to Tracy Martin-Thompson, Chief of Prevention, Intervention, and Opportunity for Youth and Young Adults at the Department of Public Health.
“One of the challenges we face is that people sign up for the vaccine and don’t show up because they’ve changed their mind about getting it or get the vaccine elsewhere,” Martin-Thompson said. “We contact our essential workers like police or individuals in direct contact with the public, at high risk for exposure, and administer doses to them that were not distributed to the population that was scheduled for that day.”
Individuals administrating the vaccine have to be approved by State of Ohio. A list of approved vaccinators includes EMT and paramedics. The Department of Public Health Director of Nursing meets with individuals serving as vaccinators to train them on how to administer and handle the vaccine, and how to manage the process. On-site observation by the nursing staff to oversee the process is ongoing.
Ward 12 Councilman Anthony Brancatelli raised questions about equity and distribution. The state’s lack of engagement with the communities that have been experiencing disproportionately high rates of COVID-19— low-income communities of color and immigrants, is a major barrier to distribution.
In Ohio’s distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, the campaign has largely missed the state’s 1.5 million Black residents due to a lack of supply and a lack of access and trust in the medical establishment, reported the Cincinnati Enquirer. Fewer than 5% of Ohio residents who’ve gotten at least one injection are Black, although Black Ohioans have constituted nearly 20% of the state’s pandemic hospitalizations and 12% of deaths.
Ohio has developed a central coronavirus vaccine registration website that will allow people to sign up for the vaccine and is working to add providers to the system, Gov. Mike DeWine said on February 17. The statewide portal will allow Ohioans to confirm what eligibility group they are in and also let them find providers and schedule a vaccine appointment. (https://odh.ohio.gov).
Ward 7 Councilman Basher Jones pointed out that many of the elders in his community including the Hough district, as well as the St. Clair-Superior, Midtown and Asia Town neighborhoods, don’t have access to transportation to get to the vaccine distribution sites.
Mobile pods will travel to those sites, according to Martin-Thompson. “We have about 98 senior buildings and we’re working directly with the Department of Aging to schedule vaccine distribution at those senior facilities. Unfortunately, we don’t know how many doses we’re going to get from week to week.”
The United States, facing a growing threat from more contagious and possibly deadlier virus variants, is gradually administering more doses every day, now up to an average of about 1.7 million, according to a New York Times database. But the supply is not increasingly quickly enough.
“The amount of doses available for distribution is not known until the week before,” added Martin-Thompson.
Beth Gatlin, Northeast Ohio Regional Healthcare Coordinator for Disaster Preparedness at The Center for Health Affairs; Dr. Alice Kim and Dr. Melissa Li-Nig from the Cleveland Clinic; Dr. Adnan Tahir, Primary Care Institute, Sisters of Charity Health System; Sam Brown, VP Operations, University Hospitals; and Dr. Brook Watts, MetroHealth System, shared their insights and concerns on the vaccination process and overview of the COVID-19 pandemic. They expressed an interest in working with the community and recognized the number of doses is the single biggest challenge they face.
“The Cleveland Clinic can administer 3,600 doses in a single day as supplies increase,” Dr. Kim said.
“University Hospital can administer up to 40,000 vaccines a week at full capacity,” said Henry “Champ” Burgess Vice President, Specialty Pharmacy University Hospitals Home Care and Hospice Services.
Patients within the hospital systems are given priority over the general public.
“Are we working together?” asked Ward 1 Councilman Joseph T. Jones.
There was no clear answer. The issue remains availability. With more vaccines, there’s more opportunity to work together, according to Dr. Watts.
A week later, the conversation at the Health and Human Service Committee shifted towards establishing the Public Auditorium as an ongoing site where recently over 2,000 vaccines were administered in addition to the mobile pod sites throughout much of the city. The City of Cleveland plans to vaccinate staff members from schools within the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, as well as non-public and charter schools, as soon as possible.
At the Zelma George Recreation Center in the Woodland Hills neighborhood vaccination lines seemed to run smoothly.
Orlando Villea, 72, thought the process was flawless. “It was simple, walk in and walk out. I have my follow-up scheduled. They took care of everything,” he said. “I called the Cleveland Department of Health for an appointment on Monday. They called back on Thursday just like they said they would, and I’m here today.”
Across the way, in folding chairs set six feet apart, people who had received the vaccine waited the required 15 minutes before leaving.
Jean Brown, 82, from Eliza Bryant Village, located in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood, stared out at the recreation center turned vaccination center with surprise.
“It was amazing,” she said. “Everyone was wonderful. I feel much better.”
To schedule a COVID-19 vaccine contact the Cleveland Department of Public Health at https://www.clevelandhealth.org/, or by calling 216-664-2222, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.