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The Statehouse News Bureau provides educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations.

Almost half of Ohio Army National Guard aren't COVID vaccinated, can't help with hospital mission

 Ohio National Guard members helping out at Ohio State University hospitals [Ohio State University]
Ohio National Guard members helping out at Ohio State University hospitals

Gov. Mike DeWine is deploying 1,250 Ohio National Guard members soon to hospitals around the state struggling with staffing shortages and record numbers of COVID patients. They join hundreds of other Guard personnel already helping in hospitals.

But many of those who would be sent out to those facilities can’t be.

The COVID-19 vaccination rate among the Air National Guard is around 93%. But the vaccination rate among Ohio’s Army National Guard is around 53%.

In an interview for "The State of Ohio", Adjutant General Major General John Harris Jr. said that means almost half can’t be deployed on hospital missions because they must be vaccinated – though some hospitals have suspended COVID vaccine requirements for their staffs.

Harris is frustrated, saying the job requires personnel to be ready.

“We have to be prepared for the call of the governor now. And so anything else around this vaccine mandate is background noise to me because the issue is readiness, readiness, readiness," Harris said.

While the Pentagon has issued a COVID vaccination deadline of June 30, Harris has moved the Ohio National Guard’s up to March 31.

“We have to be able to respond as we are, and that means we have to be ready. So waiting until June to get ready is unacceptable for me, quite frankly," Harris said. "End of March is a long time to wait to get ready, but I'm giving the soldiers the benefit of the doubt. But this medical readiness is nothing new.”

The Air Force had issued a COVID vaccination deadline of Nov. 2, 2021, which could explain the higher percentage of vaccinated personnel in the Ohio Air National Guard.

Harris said guard personnel are needed in health care facilities because of the "perfect storm" of COVID patients, high numbers of staff testing positive and having to quarantine, and with people refusing COVID vaccine mandates.

But Harris said from his conversations with hospital officials, he's been told "most of much of it is 'just burnout.'"

"The people in these hospitals who have been doing this for for almost two years now. And this is not only physically challenging, but emotionally challenging for these folks," Harris said. "It certainly takes a toll on people."

Copyright 2022 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.