Everything you need to know about Summit County’s mass vaccination site

Interview and photos by H.L. Comeriato

On March 30, I sat down with Summit County Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda to talk about Summit County’s mass vaccination site. Here’s what you need to know:

Where is the mass vaccination site, and when will it open?

Summit County’s mass vaccination site will be located at the Summit County Fairgrounds. The site will open for vaccinations on Saturday, April 3.

Summit County Public Health began scheduling 1,500 vaccination appointments at the site beginning at noon on Wednesday. 

According to a March 31 press release, more appointments will be added regularly.

How long will the site stay open?

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has said the site will administer vaccinations for at least 8 weeks, but Skoda says the site could remain active for even longer.

Read more: AN AKRON DOCTOR ANSWERS OUR COVID-19 VACCINE QUESTIONS

How many vaccine doses will the site administer? 

The Summit County Fairgrounds mass vaccination site will receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one shot (unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which both require two doses).

Currently, Skoda says she expects Summit County to receive 5,000 doses of the vaccine to be administered at the mass vaccination site every week for at least 8 weeks.

That means the mass vaccination site would have the capacity to administer full vaccations to at least 40,000 people during its 8 weeks of guaranteed operation, which is about 7% of Summit County’s total population.

Currently, the site is set to administer vaccinations 3-4 days per week, but Skoda says she hopes to eventually open the site 5 days per week as Summit County receives more doses from the state. 

How do I schedule an appointment to be vaccinated at the mass vaccination site?

You can schedule a vaccination appointment at the Summit County Fairgrounds mass vaccination site now. 

According to a March 31 press release, Summit County Public Health immediately made 1,500 appointments available to all Ohio residents, with times between 9 am and 5:30 pm on Saturday, April 3.

The mass vaccination site will receive exclusively Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and is operated separately from Summit County Public Health’s vaccine registry lottery system.

To schedule an appointment, visit Ohio’s central vaccine scheduling portal: https://gettheshot.coronavirus.ohio.gov/

When asked to enter a ZIP code, enter 44278. That way, the fairgrounds will rise to the top of the list, rather than pharmacies or hospitals that might be closer to you but have fewer appointments. 

To schedule an appointment over the phone, call 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634).

If you have difficulty scheduling an appointment and would like assistance, call Summit County Public Health’s help line at (330) 926-5795.

There’s been some concern about transportation to the Summit County Fairgrounds, and whether or not more vulnerable Akronites will be able to get there. Are there transportation options available?

Skoda says groups will be transported to Summit County Fairgrounds from Chapel Hill Mall via shuttles. As more people schedule appointments at the mass vaccination site, Skoda says Summit County Public Health will establish more “mass pick-up” points across the city — like school or church parking lots — where residents can meet, board a bus and be transported to and from the fairgrounds.

“We were looking at places like a school parking lot on the weekend, or maybe a church parking lot,” Skoda says. “Someplace that’s very common in communities, where people can actually just walk there or drop their cars off and then take the bus to the site.”

After residents begin scheduling appointments at the site, Skoda says public health officials will be able to pinpoint specific neighborhoods that would benefit from a pick-up location nearby.

When the bus arrives at the mass vaccination site, Skoda says residents won’t even have to leave the bus: “We just [vaccinate people] on the bus, which makes it easy for us. [People] just sit there. We give them the shots and we’re done.”

Additionally, METRO is offering free rides on fixed bus lines both to and from vaccination appointments — including pharmacies, drugstores, Summit County Public Health and the mass vaccination site at Summit County Fairgrounds — as of March 29.

To receive a free ride to and from a vaccination appointment, riders must show printed or digital proof they have a vaccination appointment scheduled on the same day they are riding.

Residents receiving Medicaid are also eligible for free transportation to and from COVID-19 vaccination appointments, but must register for free transportation before requisitioning a ride.

To register for transportation via Medicaid, call (330) 643-8200.

If you are already registered, call (330) 376-5353 to request a ride to and from your vaccination appointment.

To learn more about riding free with METRO, click here.

For more information on transportation support via Medicaid, click here.

Who is currently eligible to receive a vaccine at the mass vaccination site?

Anyone over the age of 16 is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in Ohio. 

However, the Pfizer vaccine is the only vaccination approved for use in people under the age of 18. Skoda says all 16 and 17-year-olds who schedule vaccination appointments will receive doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Currently, people under the age of 18 are required by the State of Ohio to be accompanied by a parent or guardian at the time of vaccination — a rule Skoda says Summit County hopes to change.

“Today we asked the governor if they could try to find a way around that so we can get permission slips or something,” Skoda says, because some parents may be forced to miss work in order to accompany their teens to vaccination appointments.

Mass vaccination was originally set to take place at Chapel Hill Mall. Why was that site selected and why did it change?

Chapel Hill Mall was selected by the State of Ohio as a potential location for a mass vaccination site. 

“It was a great [COVID-19] testing site,” Skoda says, “and we thought that would be great again.” But because the site was recently purchased by developers Industrial Commercial Properties LLC, Skoda says the location of the mass vaccination site required further negotiation after the sale was finalized.

“The bottom line is, we don’t know how long this [mass vaccination site] will last. The governor has said at least 8 weeks, but it could be longer. And so that would have really impacted their ability to economically develop,” Skoda says. “They wanted to include in the lease that we would have to relocate if they needed us to. Well, that would be very problematic during the running of a mass [vaccination] clinic to have to relocate it. So we chose just to go down the street a little bit and [use the Summit County Fairgrounds].”

Skoda calls the location change “unfortunate,” but notes that Chapel Hill Mall’s new owners were “wonderful,” and cooperated fully with Summit County Public Health to help make the final decision on the site’s location.

How many people have been vaccinated in Summit County?

As of March 30, Skoda says about 26.5% of Summit County residents have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

About 15% of Summit County residents have received both doses and completed the vaccination process.

What should I do if I want a vaccine, but I’m not able to get on the bus or even leave my house?

When residents who aren’t able to leave their homes to receive a vaccination, Summit County Public Health provides home vaccinations.

Call Summit County Public Health’s vaccination help line at (330) 926-5795 to be added to a list of residents in need of home vaccinations.

Skoda says Summit County Public Health will contact registered residents when home vaccinations are taking place in their neighborhoods.

Skoda says residents can expect to see both a vaccinator and an assistant when they receive a vaccine dose at home. The vaccinator registers and screens the person receiving the vaccine, then administers the dose and monitors the recipient for 15-30 minutes.

After I’m fully vaccinated, do I still need to wear a mask when I leave home?

“If you are fully vaccinated, you need to continue to be vigilant,” Skoda says. 

The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been proven to prevent serious disease and death as a result of COVID-19, but scientists are still seeking to find out whether they can prevent you from contracting and transmitting the virus.

A fully vaccinated person might still contract the virus and spread it among vulnerable populations, which is why it’s still important to continue COVID-19 precautions like hand washing and wearing a mask even after you’ve received a vaccine.

“You still have to be very careful,” Skoda says, noting that flu related deaths have plummeted this winter as a result of increased handwashing and the widespread use of masks. 

“If we can just hang on [until] June, I think things will get much better if we continue to do that,” Skoda says. “It will [get better], but it’s going to take a lot of us [getting] vaccinated.”

H.L. Comeriato covers public health at The Devil Strip via Report for America. Reach them at HL@thedevilstrip.com.

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