ASHLAND -- Ashland residents who qualify to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Tier 1B are currently asked to call 211 or 1-844-984-1151 from most remote areas of Ashland County to register and ask vaccine-related questions, but the registration process could change in the future.
The Ashland Health Department announced the collaboration with 211 earlier this month, just a few days before Governor Mike DeWine announced plans to launch a centralized vaccine management system through the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).
"The ink was hardly dry (on the contract with 211) and ODH came out with VMS," Ashland County Health Department's Shelia Pryor said.
A month ago, she said she pitched a statewide system to the ODH, but the idea was initially turned down. She then set out to find an alternative solution, she explained.
Now, Pryor is concerned another change in scheduling will cause additional work for the already overburdened ACHD staff and confusion for Ashland residents.
"It seems like we'll eventually have to go to that because it's a statewide push, but 211 has been only one week in the making, and it seems like it’s going in the right direction," Pryor said.
The ACHD had become overwhelmed with phone calls and messages over the recent months. More calls came in daily than could be returned.
The ACHD will be moving in the near future, so it didn't make sense to invest in a new call system, Pryor said. The ACHD staff instead decided to form a paid partnership with the 211 program, which had launched in Ashland in early 2020.
On Tuesday, Feb. 16, DeWine announced that a centralized scheduling website had been created, and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) was working with vaccine providers to enroll them in the system. The website is intended to serve as a singular location for Ohioans to confirm that they are eligible to be vaccinated, identify nearby providers, and schedule their vaccine appointment.
Ohio and approximately 40 other states chose not to use the centralized system that the federal government intended to develop. Instead, Ohio built its own centralized scheduling system. Despite the significant build time and configuration, the system was built within the state's intended timeframe.
DeWine said the ODH would work directly with vaccine providers to integrate their current systems into the statewide system and assist them in working through current waitlists to potentially integrate these commitments into the centralized system. Providers will be expected to use this system as Ohio looks to the future, and guidance will be provided in the near future regarding deadlines.
In a VMS training earlier this week, Pryor learned that the collaborative efforts between the ACHD, Ashland's Drug Mart and UH Samaritan Medical Center would not be ideal through the centralized system. The three local entities have combined their supply of the vaccine to hold joint clinics.
"I don't want to miss a chance to use a resource, so I'm looking into it, but we're going to prioritize the people of Ashland," Pryor said.
From what she knows of the proposed VMS, it would allow anyone to register anywhere in Ohio. She worries that it could require Ashland residents to travel further or wait longer for the vaccine if local spots are filled up.
Registering through 211
Until the ACHD announces otherwise on its website, registrations to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from UH Samaritan, Drug Mart or ACHD can go through 211.
Ashland residents in Tier 1B can call 211 or 1-844-984-1151 from more remote areas of Ashland County. Tier 1B includes those age 65 or older or those who have severe developmental, medical or congenital disorders.
Those who have previously registered through the health department's website do not need to register again, but if they call 211, someone should be able to confirm their registration, Pryor said.
She reminded residents that vaccinations are happening as quickly as possible, but the county only receives a couple hundred vaccines each week.
"It will take a long while to get to everyone. That doesn't mean we've lost your registration," Pryor said.
She urged residents to be patient. If they are able to receive the vaccine elsewhere, she asks that they cancel their registration with the Ashland entities by calling 211.
"We ask that you do not register in more than one place because if we have you set to be vaccinated and you get a call from somewhere else on the same day, then we could potentially be stuck with a dosage that we have to call and schedule for someone else last minute," a post on the ACHD's website said. "We've had this happen many, many times. We do not throw any dosage away, but cancelling last minute sure makes it hard for us to make sure those dosages are used."