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Athens City-County Health Department

Christina Kemper of the Athens City-County Health Department helped coordinate the Feb. 5 vaccine distribution at Heritage Hall in Athens.

The vast majority of Ohio University students and other Athens residents age 16 and older will become eligible for vaccination starting March 29, allowing a significant percentage of the county’s hardest-hit and largest demographics to begin building immunity to the virus.

The change marks the most significant expansion of vaccine eligibility in Ohio to date. While their rates of hospitalization and death are significantly lower than those of older Athens County residents, young people age 29 and under have bared the brunt of the pandemic locally, making up the vast majority of recorded cases.

"We are very excited about the announcement; it came much faster than anticipated. We are currently in discussions with the health department and the state as far as the best way to manage student vaccines," said Gillian Ice, special assistant to OU President Duane Nellis for public health operations.

"The difficulty with the eligibility opening up at the end of the semester is capturing students for both doses for Pfizer and Moderna but we are exploring how we can effectively vaccinate students with resources available."

In the weeks leading up to teens and young adults gaining widespread eligibility, all Ohioans age 40 and older and those with cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and obesity can be immunized starting Friday, March 19, Gov. Mike DeWine announced Tuesday in Cleveland at the state’s flagship mass vaccination site.

“It’s a moral imperative that we move as quickly as we can to vaccinate all Ohioans who wish to be vaccinated,” DeWine said in a tweet.

He said the federal government has indicated that the state can expect a significant increase in vaccine supply by the week of March 29. According to DeWine, those eligible under 18 can only receive the Pfizer vaccine, while adults are able to get either the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson shots.

Those with eligible health conditions, including obesity, looking to receive a vaccine won’t be required to provide proof of illness.

“We made the decision that Ohioans are honest, Ohioans have good faith and we don’t want to create another barrier for someone to get (a vaccine),” DeWine said.

There are numerous vaccine providers across Athens County that all schedule appointments differently, including Kroger, Walmart, Hopewell Health Centers and Shriver’s Pharmacy. Most just require a phone call.

To Schedule an appointment with The Athens City-County Health Departments, residents must either use the state’s centralized vaccine website or call the office (740-592-4431).

Also available starting at the end of March is the state-sponsored mass vaccination mobile unit managed by OU’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Community Health Programs that will administer vaccines across southeast Ohio.

"The mobile clinic is contracted to vaccinate underserved populations in Southeast Ohio; any effort we establish for students will have to be carefully planned to not disadvantage the community we were asked to assist," Ice said.

As of Tuesday, more than 18 percent of Athens County residents have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. 

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