GAMBIER -- Teens and college-age individuals are next up on the COVID-19 vaccination schedule as announced by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.
Last week, DeWine stated all Ohioans age 16 and older will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on March 29, then bumped up that status this week if local openings allow. As of March 18, Knox Public Health administered 5,587 first doses and 2,599 second doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
Chris Smith, who leads Kenyon’s Cox Health & Counseling Center in addition to serving as the Vice President of the Ohio College Health Association and serving on Knox Community Hospital’s Board of Trustees among other leadership roles, noted that “KPH is doing a phenomenal job” and that Kenyon is “doing our best to just be good partners with KPH.”
Smith explained that “collectively, we are all excited.” He thinks that the vaccine will “allow us to return to some level of normalcy.”
Similarly, Ryan Nader, a Senior at Kenyon College and Chairperson of the Safety and Wellness Committee, shared that he too is “looking forward to (getting vaccinated).”
Smith, however, noted that he was “cautiously optimistic.”
“I am very excited about the governor’s news," he said, "but I am always cautiously optimistic, because what I know in working with the federal government and even in this role now, that elected officials whom we respect and revere can often put edicts out there and things that they want to happen and there are a lot of details that have to cascade behind the scenes concurrently to make that happen.”
One of Smith’s concerns is the vaccine supplies. Knox County currently receives hundreds of vaccines weekly to administer to the thousands of county residents.
“The vaccine supply has to be increased to match (the lowered age qualifications) or they’ll have to open clinics, as they have been, to a first-come, first-serve basis," Smith said.
“My fear for that is people may become disheartened (after waiting in line).”
Smith does not want the low vaccine supplies to deter Knox County residents from receiving a vaccination.
“We need more vaccines and I’m confident that if we get it KPH will distribute it well,” he said.
Knox Public Health is currently distributing the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, both of which require two doses within several weeks. Pfizer is the only one, of the two, approved to be administered to recipients younger than 18 years of age. If that scenario remains intact, residents ages 16-17 will have fewer vaccination options than their 18-year-old counterparts.
Beyond vaccination supplies, Smith is concerned about the approaching end of the spring semester and how that will affect students who receive (or don’t receive) the vaccine.
“How do we get students that first dose and ensure that they get the second dose before they leave?" Smith said. "We want people to have full protection before they leave Knox County.”
Another concern is how students and Gambier residents will commute to other Knox County vaccination locations.
“Transportation can become an issue,” Smith said.
Thus far Knox Public Health has been using the Knox Area Transit (KAT) shuttle to transport residents to vaccination clinics. Those who need a lift to a vaccination site can call 740-392-7433.
But Nader isn’t as concerned about transportation.
“A lot of students have friends with vehicles,” Nader said.
That means getting to a vaccination clinic may be as easy as hitching a ride from a fellow student.
On Feb. 12, Knox Public Health identified the Lowry Center (formerly known as the Kenyon Athletic Center) as an ideal location for a potential vaccination clinic.
However, the Center has not been legally approved as such and Kenyon College has not registered it as a COVID-19 vaccination clinic with the state.
Ohio educational institutions that officially register as a vaccination clinic are required to serve not only their students and faculty but the greater community. Ohio colleges like Ohio State and Oberlin are currently registered to distribute vaccinations.
“It would be ideal to have a closed vaccine clinic on campus, instead of trying to figure out how to mass transport students safely,” Smith added.
While students and residents wait for the lowered age qualifications, Smith explained that “Gambier is not a bubble by any means.” It is instead, he said, “a COVID wiffle ball.”
However, once enough residents receive the vaccine to reach herd immunity, as Smith noted earlier, “(hopefully) we’ll reach some level of normalcy.”