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Racial Disparities Persist In Cuyahoga County COVID-19 Vaccinations

While almost 140,000 Cuyahoga County residents have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine, only 16,000 of them are Black. [Ohio Department of Health]
While almost 140,000 Cuyahoga County residents have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine, only 16,000 of them are Black. [Ohio Department of Health]

Cuyahoga County officials will join Hamilton and Franklin counties to send a request to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine asking him to allocate 20 percent of the state’s COVID-19 vaccines for minority populations, County Executive Armond Budish said in a Friday press conference.

“That is the right thing to do,” Budish said. “The percentage of minorities getting the vaccine remains way too low.”

Overall, more than 130,000 Cuyahoga County residents have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, about 10.4 percent of the population, according to state data. However, nearly 99,000 of those individuals are white, while 16,000 are Black.

Health officials are trying to ramp up vaccination outreach in Cuyahoga County, with videos with targeted messages for minority populations to be distributed through local media outlets, Health Commissioner Terry Allan said.

Allan also encouraged residents to attend the Ohio Department of Health (ODH)'s virtual town halls aimed at vulnerable populations starting next week.

The town hall panels will include medical experts, public health professionals, and faith leaders. They will focus on groups such as Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and rural Ohioans.

The first virtual town hall will be streamed Monday, Feb. 22, and will target African-Americans, according to an ODH press release.

Currently, Ohio is vaccinating people in phase 1B which includes, individuals over 65, people with certain medical conditions, and teachers and school staff.

The Educational Service Center of Northeast Ohio has been holding vaccination clinics for teachers and school staff in Cuyahoga County at its office in Independence since Feb. 10, said Jennifer Dodd, director of operations and development.

About 250 school entities, including both public and private school districts, are participating in the clinics, and around 23,000 educators will have received their first dose by Feb. 24, Dodd said.

The vaccines are being administered through Giant Eagle, she added.

School districts in the city of Cleveland had the option of joining the county vaccination clinics or partnering instead with the city’s health department for the vaccine, Dodd said.

Educators will begin receiving the second dose starting Mar. 3. Dodd did not say whether all of Cuyahoga County's school districts will return to in-person or hybrid learning by Gov. Mike DeWine’s deadline of Mar. 1.

“We’re collecting data on that now, for [the Ohio Department of Education] and the governor, so I don’t have an answer on that right now, but hopefully we’ll find out soon,” she said.

Last week, Gov. DeWine chided some school districts for deciding not to return to in-person schooling even after educators received the vaccine. Ohio schools were offered vaccines on the condition that they would return to in-person or hybrid learning in March.

Next week, the Cuyahoga County Board of Health will begin reaching out to people on the 1B waitlist. The county is currently wrapping up vaccinations for the previous phase of distribution, which included first responders and front-line health care workers, Allan said. 

“We’re going to be looking first ... at those 80 and above. We’ll start there on our pre-registration list and work our way through," he said.

Eligible individuals can pre-register to get the vaccine on the board of health’s website.

People who have already signed up to get a vaccine through the county’s vaccine portal, but received the first dose from a different provider instead, should contact the board of health so they can take them off the list and open the appointment to others in line, Allan said.

Otherwise, there are more than 80 providers in the county that are administering vaccines to the Phase 1B group, Allan said.

Many people have reported frustrations and confusion while attempting to sign up for the vaccine, and some have had difficulty finding any appointments available near them.

Allan said his best advice is to stay patient.

“We do still have scarce vaccine – that’s a reality, not just for Ohio, but the entire country,” Allan said. "We just have to hang in a little bit longer. We do have a very, very large waiting list."

Budish urges people to call the United Way’s 2-1-1 phone line for help in scheduling vaccine appointments, rather than calling around to different providers themselves.

COVID-19 cases continue to decrease in the county, while new deaths have ticked up slightly, health officials said.

The county reported 1,344 new cases this past week and 59 deaths, according to county data.

Hospitalizations and intensive care unit utilizations are steadily decreasing.

The testing positivity rate, which measures how many COVID-19 tests come back positive in the county, has dropped to 7.1 percent. About a month ago, it was around 13 percent, and peaked at 25 percent in early December, according to county data.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.