With no central vaccine system and limited supply, Ohioans hunt for doses

Many people continue to struggle with the decentralized COVID-19 vaccine distribution system, though even with an easier way to search between different providers, the limited supply would make it hard to snag an appointment for a while.

The DeWine administration has previously said that it’s working on a central system to search for appointments. But while explaining the proposed central system, Gov. Mike DeWine said the root of most of the challenges is essentially not enough vaccine. Supply is ramping up in Ohio and should continue to increase in the coming weeks.

But for now, no central vaccine system exists in Ohio and each clinic or department has their own process, with some creating wait lists while others have a first come, first serve process. Some clinics have a phone number, while others just a website.

Other states have taken different approaches. The New Mexico Department of Health has a central website vaccinenm.org that both lets people register and manages inventory so people can be matched with vaccine opportunities. Some Florida communities held first come, first serve clinics that made national news for lengthy lines and desperate campouts.

The Dayton VA has a separate process for enrolled veterans, and has been robocalling eligible people to alert them that they can sign up and has also held walk-in clinics.

Part of the barrier to a coordinated vaccine system is that there isn’t truly an American health care system, said Dan Skinner, associate professor of health policy at Ohio University.

“That’s in the background of all this, which is people do expect for there to be a system. But really what we have are a whole bunch of different entities trying to behave like a system,” Skinner said.

It’s hard coordinating between hospital systems, medical schools, and public health departments, Skinner said, and these entities don’t always have aligned incentives or regulatory structures.

“To the average person who’s just trying to get a vaccine, all that is, is frustration,” Skinner said.

What’s Ohio’s plan for a central system?

Earlier in February he said sometime around Valentine’s Day that state officials hope to start the process of having a central sign up system. Providers will be encouraged but not required to join, and some hospitals have indicated that they want to keep using their scheduling systems, so users would have to click a link that would take them from the central system to the hospital’s website.

“What we would hope is a seamless experience with someone who can go online and it will come up with the places and it would tell them which ones have vaccine available for the week,” DeWine said.

Ohio Department of Health representatives didn’t respond last week to requests for more details about these plans.

Supply is steadily ramping up. On Feb. 11, DeWine said Ohio received a total of 214,525 first doses of vaccine that week. A total of 223,025 first doses are scheduled to arrive the week of Feb. 15.

Additionally, the federal retail pharmacy program will soon begin shipping doses to Ohio’s more than 160 Rite Aid pharmacies. Vaccine distribution will also expand into all 194 Kroger pharmacies.

About 10.3% of the Ohio population had received at least one dose and 3.5% had received both doses as of Friday afternoon. For Ohioans 80 and older — who have been particularly susceptible to complications from the virus — about 56.8% of that population has received at least one dose and about 11.9% has received both doses.

That’s about 1.2 million Ohioans who have received at least one dose and 408,103 who have received both doses.

Seeking an appointment

Michael Raffio said he and his wife Marie secured vaccine appointments for Wednesday by going Feb. 12 to Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County’s website. The health department had 740 doses available — up from 450 the week before.

“My wife is happier than if she had won the Powerball,” Raffio said.

Before finally getting those appointments, Raffio had been frustrated with trying to sign up. The websites didn’t give clear enough guidance on what to do, he said, or if you were trying to pick an appointment that was taken.

The week before, Feb. 5, when hundreds of others were on the site, Raffio was also trying to book an appointment for his wife. The slots online were marked as all taken about 15 minutes after registration opened.

Raffio clicked to sign up for an 8:30 a.m. slot and instead got another box that popped up saying sign up for a vaccine. He went back to pick a 9:30 a.m. slot and got the same message. He clicked on a 10:30 a.m. slot and got the same message.

“I didn’t get any kind of message saying that I did get it confirmed, so I assume she doesn’t have an appointment,” Raffio said.

Searching through other sites for other locations, including hospitals and pharmacies, he didn’t find the user experience much better. He said most just say that no appointments are available.

“Mostly all the other places, all they do is tell you there are no appointments available, no appointments available,” Raffio said, speaking before he was able to book the appointments with Public Health. “It’ll say register for an appointment, you click on it, it says, ‘no appointments available.’ So you’re just like, well, what am I supposed to do? Come back every day and like every five minutes? How does this work?”

About the Author