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Getting COVID-19 vaccination appointments a mixed bag at best

Bob Gaetjens
Record-Courier
Jane Moser, Portage County Health Department MRC volunteer RN, administers a vaccination dose to Trey Brock, from the Windham Fire Department. While beginning work on the Phase 1B public vaccination process, the health department also is administering second doses to first responders.

Portage County residents are reporting mixed results in their efforts to get registered and obtain appointments to get the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. 

Among them are Clifford, 74, and Mary Jane Bliss, 73, of Kent, who have registered but don’t yet have appointments through University Hospitals. 

“In the meantime, there’ve been a couple stories in the Record-Courier and Beacon [Journal] about a number of places locally where we could call,” said Clifford. “Since we normally do shopping at the Giant Eagle in Stow, we called there.”

When they called, he said there was a pre-recorded message saying the store doesn’t have the vaccine. 

He said the couple is successfully registered at UH. 

Marianne Kitakis, Portage County Health Department nurse, prepares doses of the COVID-19 dose during a recent health department clinic.

“I did get an email from them … saying that we were on the waiting list for an appointment and we were pre-registered but they would be unable to specify when we’d be contacted for an appointment due to scarcity of the supply.”

Joseph Diorio, health commissioner for the Portage County Combined General Health District, said the main problem the area faces is a lack of vaccine doses. 

“Our vaccine supply is very limited, so we’ve had a very limited rollout,” he said. “When we do our appointment-only clinics, we’re scheduling around 25 per 15 minutes. We’re basically going through about 100 individuals in an hour.”

Clifford said the couple would go wherever they can get an appointment first. 

Based on Facebook comments from nearly 80 area residents, the Bliss’ case is fairly typical. 

Lots of area residents commented they’d signed up in multiple places and hadn’t heard back or only heard back recently. However, there were some who responded they had received appointments for vaccinations. 

“This entire process is horrible,” Judy Sharp wrote on Facebook. “I have been trying to get the vaccine for my soon-to-be 91-year-old father and nothing. No help from anyone. Nothing nea by. We are signed up everywhere with no response … I check multiple places each day and nothing [is available] even semi-close for us.”

However, there are some, like Cindy Mishler, who’ve experienced success. She registered her mother at several pharmacies and the Portage County Combined General Health District and heard back from two places, one of the Giant Eagle stores and Discount Drug Mart. 

“Giant Eagle also scheduled her for her second dose,” Mishler . “I found it very easy. [I’m] disappointed I didn't hear back from the health department to this day.”

Diorio said he’s “devoted quite a bit more staff to answer phones,” adding he’s discussing the possibility of setting up a phone bank through Kent State University. 

Diorio said he’s glad seniors and their adult children are signing up at multiple pharmacies in addition to the health department.

People wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine during a recent Portage County Health Department vaccination clinic.

However, if they register at several locations and get an appointment at one of them, Diorio said it would be helpful if people would call back the other locations to let them know they have an appointment for vaccination elsewhere.

“We know that’s not always going to happen,” he said. 

However, he said the health department has a system in place to call people registered who can come on short notice for vaccination if there’s a no-show for some reason. 

“It could be that they didn’t feel good that day, that the didn’t have a ride that day,” he said. “That’s why we’ve created this immediate response list.”

Because the shelf life of the vaccine is limited due to a need to keep it cold, he said the department has to act fast so doses aren’t lost. 

Diorio said the health department is doing its best to make sure the registration process via phone and internet isn’t a bottleneck to getting the vaccines out quickly. He said more phones have been added and staff have been pulled off their regular duties to man the phones as needed. The state also is considering creating a statewide registration process.

But the whole process is just slower than what area residents want, he acknowledged. 

“We’re fortunate to be a position where we’re getting vaccine,” said Diorio. “It’s just not coming as fast as everyone wants it. People have to just kind of temper their expectations. We’re going to get there.”

Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at bgaetjens@recordpub.com and @bobgaetjens_rc.