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'It's Very Depressing': Some Eligible Ohioans Struggle To Sign Up For COVID Vaccine

Ohio State employee Lauren Chisholm, left, receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination from Robert Weber Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Columbus.
Ohio State employee Lauren Chisholm, left, receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination from Robert Weber Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Columbus.

Almost 10% of Hamilton County residents have begun to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Under the statewide rollout, that includes many first responders, hospital workers, people 65 and older and teachers. But getting the vaccine once eligible isn't easy. The push for vaccine information remains widespread with everyone from the Hamilton County Health Department to Facebook trying to get facts out to people.

Social media giant Facebook has almost 3 billion users worldwide and announced last week they're launching a vaccine campaign to connect people with local vaccine distribution information and data about vaccine usage locally.

Facebook Spokesperson Laura McGorman said, "in Hamilton County, for example, we see that 76% of people would take the COVID vaccine if it were offered to them today. But then in the rest of the state, that number is hovering only at around 60%."

The data distribution coincides with the company's use of artificial intelligence to remove misinformation about COVID-19 from Facebook and its commitment to give $120 million in advertising credits to health agencies around the work.

"We're linking out to local health department websites. So for people who are eligible to get the vaccine, they can find out where and when they can get it," McGorman said. "We recognize that it can be hard to find this information online. And so we're working very closely with local public health departments to actually provide those links right in the Facebook app."

But links to local health departments might only be the tip of the iceberg for people trying to get vaccinated.

Margaret McGurk is a retired journalist and editor from the Cincinnati Enquirer. She lives in Price Hill. It took her nine days of repeatedly calling local providers to land a vaccination appointment.

"Mostly, it was very depressing because there was no information to be had," she said. "And it's probably because of the way that this has come together. Kind of haphazardly. It's piecemeal. Nobody thought of setting up a way to have a central source of information about appointments, about when and where you can go to get your vaccinations."

Instead, she says she reached out to about seven different providers at least once a day. And even that didn't work out for her. The reason she was able to land an appointment was luck.

McGurk had already called Walgreens for the day and was told there were no appointments available. But her sister later checked the website and found a few openings. They were both able to schedule an appointment.

"I know that not everything's going back to normal for a long time. But you know, I'll be able to go out in the world sometimes and not worry about dying. So I'm really -- I'm so relieved. I feel like I can breathe again. It just had become so depressing," she says about signing up for the vaccination process.

The Hamilton County Health Department says there is not much they can do about access to the vaccine right now.

Mike Samet, public information officer for the Hamilton County Health Department, says there are about 50 vaccine provider sites in the county

"As the Governor, Ohio Deptartment of Health, et al, have been saying, week after week, it will take some time to get vaccine to all who are eligible and desire to receive it," he said.

In the meantime, he recommends people register for the vaccine at as many locations as possible and continue practicing COVID-19 safety measures.

He said anyone who has trouble registering for a vaccine can call 211 for individual help. 

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