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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

All is forgiven, Ohio*. Thanks for the COVID vaccine. Sincerely, Michigan.

Ohio
(* forgiven for now) Ohio has eased restrictions to the coronavirus vaccine faster than Michigan, prompting thousands to travel south for appointments.(Bridge file photo)

May 24: Can $1 million prizes or free cars jumpstart Michigan COVID vaccine rates?

Suddenly, Ohio doesn’t seem so bad after all.

Thousands of Michigan residents are heading south— voluntarily —  to get their coronavirus vaccines, finding access easier in Ohio than Michigan. 

And they’re doing so guilt free, crossing the state line but not jumping in line for inoculations.

 

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Jane Miller of Dexter, a proud graduate of the University of Michigan, said she and her husband were among a caravan of cars headed to a pharmacy in Napoleon, Ohio, southwest of Toledo.

When they got there she said they were surrounded by fellow Michigan residents all scheduled for the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on March 12.

“It was comical,” she said. “People were saying ‘can you believe it?’”

With Ohio lowering its age of eligibility to 16 this week, and to 40 and 50 before Michigan did, thousands of people have gotten the vaccines at pharmacies across northwest Ohio or at large-scale clinics in Toledo.

Michigan opens up eligibility to everyone 16 and older on Monday. The current threshold is 50 and older, though some places like Detroit and Kalamazoo County have lowered the age to 16 this week.

It’s not just people from southern Monroe County going a few miles to Ohio but people from across the state who have heard — often via social media networks — about the relatively easy access to vaccines in Ohio. State Rep. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids, took his college-age children to Toledo for a shot, as did University of Michigan epidemiologist Joshua Petrie, who studies the virus. Both said it was the closest place to go in their age groups.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said he has no problem with it. Nor does the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“If Michiganders get their dose out of state, we are glad they were able to get vaccinated as we know the COVID-19 vaccine is our way out of the pandemic and a chance to return to normalcy,” said Lynn Sutfin, an Michigan health spokesperson.

Her counterpart in Ohio, Alicia Shoults, said the state welcomes all who are eligible.

“Providers should attempt to vaccinate that individual regardless of their county or state of residence,” she said.

Driving to the Buckeye State may be a tough sell for some Michiganders, but many residents said they made the trek because of Michigan’s maze-like online registration systems and greater availability in Ohio.

Miller said the earliest she could have received a vaccine in Washtenaw County was April, according to online appointment schedules. 

When in South Carolina recently, local pharmacies had walk-up vaccinations, no appointments necessary, Miller said.

“Michigan, we are just screwed up here,” she said.

Some of the counties with Michigan’s lowest vaccination rates — including Cass, Hillsdale and Monroe — are along the borders with Ohio and Indiana.

Michigan now ranks 34th in the rate of getting people started on the typically two-dose vaccine (the Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires just a single dose but has been available in far smaller numbers). 

Ohio ranks 33rd, according to a Bridge Michigan analysis of data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those two positions could be reversed, however, if Ohio could report vaccinations back to Michigan authorities: Sutfin said only Michigan healthcare providers can add to the vaccine registry and those vaccinated in other states won’t get recorded unless they tell their Michigan-based doctors.

So far, nearly 79,000 non-Ohio residents have gotten vaccines in Ohio, coming from border states Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. A spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Health said it does not have a state-by-state breakdown.

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We’ve been there for you with daily Michigan COVID-19 news; reporting on the emergence of the virus, daily numbers with our tracker and dashboard, exploding unemployment, and we finally were able to report on mass vaccine distribution. We report because the news impacts all of us. Will you please donate and help us reach our goal of 15,000 members in 2021?

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