Local clinics adding walk-in hours, outreach to fill open vaccine appointments

Hundreds of appointments for COVID-19 vaccines remain open in the region, and some providers have started taking in walk-ins or targeting outreach to match supply with people who still need an immunization.

Erik Balster, Preble County Public Health commissioner, said appointments were filling up since they started in December but about a week and a half ago they started having empty appointment slots and cut their Saturday clinic shorter than planned.

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“I think largely we’re moving away from the large vaccine clinics where hundreds of people show up, to do more smaller in-clinic based vaccinations,” Balster said

Now, as they move past vaccines from retirees to primarily people working or in school, the health department is regrouping and figuring out the best next approach, such as possibly doing outreach for people doing shift work who can’t come out to a day clinic appointment.

“We’re still open for vaccines, we’re just recalibrating the system,” Balster said.

How to schedule a vaccine

People can schedule appointments at https://gettheshot.coronavirus.ohio.gov/

Vicky Knisley-Henry, health educator with Miami County Public Health, said her department is taking appointments but has also started incorporating walk-ins into their clinics. They are also setting up a site near Kroger and Dayton Children’s for walk-ins and anticipate some evening and weekend hours.

“Part of the reason is to provide more access to people who are working during the day. They might not be able to get in to get a vaccine until after hours or on the weekends, so we’re trying to provide another option for the community to get their vaccine,” Knisley-Henry said.

People can also register for Miami County Public Health’s Tuesday and Thursday clinics this week at miamicountyhealth.net or 937-573-3461.

All vaccines available are nearly 100% effective in preventing severe disease or death from COVID-19 and have been urged to help people protect themselves and those they come in contact with.

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Anyone 16 and older can seek a vaccine, though minors must have permission from a guardian present for the vaccination. The vaccines are free to all.

About 35% or 4.1 million Ohioans have received at least one dose. More than 70% of people 65 and older have received at least one vaccine.

On Monday, Ohio Department of Health reported 1,236 hospitalized patients, the highest number in at least two weeks.

Monday was also the first time Ohio had more than 300 coronavirus patients in the state’s ICUs in the last two weeks. On March 30, 251 COVID patients were in the ICU, as of Monday there were 315.

Amy Rohling McGee, president of the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, said it would be good to have better data on the reports of unused vaccine and empty appointments.

“We’ve heard the same kind of anecdotes but it would be very helpful to have quantitative data at the county level so that we can assess or fully what’s going on,” she said.

Reem Aly, vice president, Health Policy Institute of Ohio, said there needs to be practices to meet the needs of particular populations facing specific barriers to vaccines.

“You’re now at the point where you need to reach those populations that are facing the most barriers to accessing the vaccine, whether it be through their work or transportation or cultural linguistic barriers,” Aly said.

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Dan Suffoletto, with Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County, said as of Monday afternoon they still had about 2,300 openings on Friday and 3,000 appointments open for Saturday. People can schedule appointments at https://gettheshot.coronavirus.ohio.gov/ or by calling 937-225-6217.

“For those people who may have had trouble in the past trying to find open appointments or schedule appointments, now’s a great time to do it because there’s plenty of availability,” he said.

Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County is also doing targeted vaccine outreach, such as an online forum entirely in Spanish and an upcoming panel geared toward LGBTQ residents.

Not all providers have experienced the same appointment gaps in the system and there are regional and provider-level variations.

Julie Wickline, clinical services director with Five Rivers Health Centers, based in Dayton, said so far they have been able to fill appointment slots and have had very few no shows. If they do have a no show, they can ask patients on site for other reasons if they are interested.

“Sometimes patients are in here will schedule an appointment while they’re in here. They’re asking if we don’t have something that day if we can schedule an appointment so I do think that helps having the relationship,” she said.

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