TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Ohio's vaccination rollout is moving toward outlining how private clinics can give COVID-19 shots at workplaces, churches and schools. But for now, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's administration has told health care providers to stop scheduling clinics that aren't open to the public.
A handful of such clinics have popped up in recent weeks at offices, union halls and factories in the Toledo area for employees and their families. Organizers say they've given shots to thousands of people, many who didn't want to take time off work or were reluctant to be vaccinated.
“Those barriers were taken away,” said Matt Sapara, vice president of regional development and operations at Mercy Health in Toledo.
The clinics also can be more effective at reaching people of color, he said. At a private event for Jeep workers and their families in Toledo two weeks ago, about 20% of those vaccinated were from ethnic minority groups — a much higher percentage than they've seen at the public vaccination sites, Sapara said.
State officials told providers, including Mercy Health, late last week to take a temporary pause with the nonpublic clinics because it first wants to make sure that there are enough doses for everyone, especially now that everyone ages 16 and older became eligible this week, said DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney.
“The concern is that these types of closed pods would take away from public access,” he said. “It's not that they aren't a valuable tool. This should not be taken as any discouragement of the enthusiasm to get everyone vaccinated.”
State officials, he said, are working on guidelines that could be released in the coming week and spell out how the nonpublic vaccination clinics could operate.
These clinics that bring shots to where people work and live will be a part of the state's strategy, Tierney said.
Health providers in Toledo who are complying with the state's request to hit pause say there are dozens of employers, schools and organizations interested in holding events.
“The closer we can get the vaccine to people, the better,” said Sean Savage, who leads a communitywide effort in Toledo to promote and organize the vaccine distribution. ”That might be in an underserved community or an office setting or next to the assembly line."
Some people, he said, aren't able to leave work or drive to a large vaccination site. Others aren't comfortable going to somewhere unfamiliar so the next phase needs to include giving out shots at places such as neighborhood schools, libraries and churches.
“This is critical,” Savage said. “We need to be really creative to reach those who weren’t first to have their hands up.”
His organization, called the V Project, sent DeWine a letter last week asking the governor to consider allowing vaccine providers to choose distribution sites that are close to where people live and work.
“The more convenient the sites, the more likely we achieve herd immunity,” the letter said.
Baldemar Velasquez, a farm labor organization leader in Toledo with deep ties to the Latino community, said the small, public vaccination clinic his group operates one night a week has reached those who would otherwise be left behind.
The clinic inside a bilingual school “is a safe place to come," he said. "They feel it's a trusted site.”