Adjutant general: Army National Guard vax rates are headed up

More than 40% of Guard members were unvaccinated as of last week, affecting deployment to hospitals

More than half of Ohio Army National Guard members are vaccinated against COVID-19, and Ohio National Guard Adjutant Maj. Gen. John Harris is optimistic vaccination numbers are moving in the right direction.

“We generally see (vaccination) surges in the numbers over the (Guard drill) weekends,” Harris said in an interview Tuesday.

Army National Guard members have been deployed to hospitals around the state to assist with COVID response, as infection and hospitalization rates soared. Learning which Guard members were vaccinated and which ones weren’t was a step in the deployment process.

As of last Thursday, 56% of Ohio Army National Guard troops had been fully vaccinated, and another 11% had received a first dose, Harris told the Dayton Daily News last week. He expects the Army vaccination rate to follow that of the separate Air National Guard, which quickly reached a 90% vaccination rate after commanders set a deadline.

As of Tuesday, the most recent numbers available showed Ohio Air National Guard members were 92% vaccinated, while Ohio Army National Guard were 56.8% vaccinated

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It’s that 11% figure for first doses that gave Harris optimism that the Army’s rate is headed in the right direction.

“When you look at those first shots, 11% have taken their first shots,” the two-star general told this news outlet Tuesday. “As we get deeper into this process for the Army (National Guard), I expect to see what we saw with the Air National Guard — and that’s a pretty significant increase as we approach the mandatory (vaccination) requirement date.”

Army Guard members are required to be fully vaccinated by March 31.

“End of March is a long time to wait to get ready, but I’m giving the soldiers the benefit of the doubt. But this medical readiness is nothing new” for Guard members, Harris told the Statehouse News Bureau in a story last week.

Asked Tuesday if he was frustrated with the pace of vaccinations, Harris said the frustration was not with individual soldiers.

“The frustration is just helping soldiers and Airmen weed through the myriad of information, the amounts and amounts of information — some of it correct, some of it incorrect — about the vaccine and helping them get to a decision to get the vaccine,” he said. “It’s just very confusing.”

About 65% of the Guard already deployed is in hospitals in northern Ohio, with 20% in central Ohio and 15% in the state’s southern half, Harris said.

Some 80 Guard members have been deployed to Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton to assist with staffing, Harris said in his interview. On Wednesday, Dayton Children’s said the Ohio National Guard will assist at its Springboro COVID-19 testing site, allowing the site to triple its capacity.

Troops are assisting with COVID testing via collecting test samples, Harris said. They are also assisting with transporting patients within hospitals, helping deliver food and assisting with administrative tasks where needed. Some are also working at cleaning rooms, as well.

Vaccination rates have not prevented the Guard from helping out at area hospitals, Harris said.

“As the needs have increased, he (Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine) has called, and we’ve been able to meet that demand each time,” the adjutant general said.

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