SHELBY — Shelby residents eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine received a surprise visitor on Tuesday afternoon.
The Shelby Community and Senior Center hosted Gov. Mike DeWine and his wife Fran on Tuesday afternoon. With both DeWines fully vaccinated, the governor and his wife now feel safer to travel around the state and visit a number of vaccine clinics in Ohio.
"Everybody's doing it a little differently ... but one of the things that's really a common denominator is the fact that these are all locally run," DeWine said. "We made a decision in Ohio to decentralize so everybody -- no matter what county, village or city you live in -- would have a chance to get the vaccine."
Dr. Ajay Chawla, health commissioner and medical director for the Shelby City Health Department, said the city's vaccine rates have been "phenomenal." The health department has been administering the Moderna vaccine, a two-dose vaccine given 28 days apart.
"It's usually by word of mouth in small towns," Chawla said. "Our approach is when people call us, we have a live person to talk to so they get an appointment right away."
DeWine said he was impressed with Shelby's operation.
"This is people in Shelby helping people in Shelby. You can keep everything close to home," DeWine said. "Dr. Chawla knows his patients, he knows what will resonate with the residents of his community. This is a community partnership, pulling people together."
The Shelby City Health Department is currently monitoring 21 active COVID-19 cases from within the city's population. A total of 800 individuals have tested positive in the last year, with 34 deaths due to the virus.
"We're not the largest department in the state of Ohio by any means, but we are doing what we can to forge ahead by vaccinating citizens in our jurisdiction," said Mayor Steve Schag. "We feel we're being very successful in that endeavor."
Earlier on Tuesday, DeWine announced expanded vaccine eligibility in Ohio beginning on March 19 for phases 1E and 2C.
Phase 1E includes those with cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, and obesity. Phase 2C extends eligibility to Ohioans who are 40 and older. Between these two eligible groups, 1.6 million more Ohioans will have access to the vaccine.
Beginning on March 29, eligibility will be expanded to all Ohioans ages 16 and older. FDA emergency use authorization only allows those ages 16 and 17 to receive the Pfizer vaccine.
In addition to local clinics, a mobile clinic will visit various sites in north-central Ohio as one of 18 state-sponsored mass vaccination clinics. Once it is operational, any Ohioan eligible to receive the vaccine under the Ohio Department of Health’s vaccination plan will be able to get a vaccination at any of Ohio's mass vaccination clinics.
Eligible Ohioans can book an appointment to receive the vaccine at any one of Ohio's 1,300 local vaccine providers using this online portal.
Currently, the state of Ohio has vaccinated 2.3 million people, with about 400,000 first doses administered every month, according to DeWine.
On March 4, DeWine announced he would lift all health orders when the state falls below 50 new cases per 100,000 residents in a two-week period. At the current pace, DeWine estimated the health orders could be lifted in seven weeks.
"It might be more or less, we don't really know," he said. "The faster we get people vaccinated, and the more people continue to wear masks. We've got to stay on defense with the masks and offense with the vaccine."
Anyone still hesitant to receive the vaccine is advised to speak to their doctor or someone they rely on for medical advice. Another powerful motivator is talking to family and friends who have received the vaccine and spreading the word, DeWine said.
"When you make any kind of medical decision, doctors always talk about risk. And doctors are saying it's not even a close call," he said. "The end is in sight. We can see the end of this. So we've got to keep driving home. You don't let your guard down at the last minute."